“That day will assault everyone,” says the Lord (Luke 21:35).
The Lord Jesus is saying that the day of judgment will assault everyone.
But let’s ask ourselves this question: Do the days already assault us now?
Does the alarm clock make an unwelcome sound? Does the morning news assault me? Is pulling out into traffic like being assaulted? Am I thoroughly pummeled by mid-morning?
An assault leaves the victim stunned, paralyzed, dazed, passive. An assault knocks the wind out of you, sucks the energy out of you, bewilders you. An assault can make a person lose his way, lose track of where he was headed. Immediately after an assault, it is impossible to focus on one’s goals; it is impossible to focus on the future. There is just pain and confusion.
The roughest part of everyday life can be boredom. The assault can be the oppression of deadening routine. Life comes at you slow—so slow that it hurts with a dull pain, like after a body blow.
What happens when even the special, fun things feel old? Like when you don’t feel like doing any daggone Christmas shopping?
For our dear mother Church, today is the last day of the year.
It is the ideal day to meditate on the Day–the last day, the end of time.
As we have noted before, St. Basil explained Christ’s words as well as anyone ever has.
The Lord said, “Take heed of yourselves, lest…the day come upon you unawares” (Luke 21:34).
St. Basil explained:
Every animal has within itself certain instincts which it has received from God, for the preservation of its own being.
Wherefore Christ has also given us this warning, that what comes to animals by nature may be ours by the aid of reason and prudence: that we may flee from sin as the brute creatures shun deadly food; that we may seek after righteousness, as they wholesome herbs.
Take heed of yourselves. Eat your Wheaties. Do good; avoid evil.
Just before the Lord Jesus embraced His bitter Passion, He sat on the Mount of Olives with His disciples and outlined the signs of the end of the world. Almost everything He said was utterly terrifying.
From where the Lord and the disciples were sitting, they could see the enormous Temple built by King Herod the Great.
“There will not be left one stone upon another that will not be thrown down,” Christ said.
And it got worse:
“Nation will rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes, famines…” “You will be beaten in synagogues…” “Brother will hand over brother to death…” “There will be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people.” “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” “Unless the Lord had shortened the days, no living creature could be saved.”
Behold, He is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see Him. (Revelation 1:7)
While we were in Israel, my fellow pilgrims and I saw many of the places and things referred to in the Bible. We saw the hometown of Jesus Christ, and the place where He was born. We saw the Sea of Galilee. We saw the Jordan River. We saw the desert where Christ was tempted by the devil. We saw the pathway on which He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. We saw the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Temple Mount and Mount Calvary. We saw the tomb where Christ’s body lay.
…After I finished high school, I got a job typing the reports of a company of local archaeologists.
The company specialized in pre-historic archaeology–that is, the study of artifacts produced by people who did not have writing.
In our area, you can discover a pre-historic artifact while you are out for a walk. There are still Algonquian arrowheads and potsherds lying on the surface of the earth.
Contrast this with archaeology in the Old City of Jerusalem. On Monday evening, we walked down four flights of steps from street level. We emerged into a cistern that was built to hold water for use in the Temple in the fifth century B.C.
There are books written about the building of that temple–they can be found in the Old Testament. My point is: In Jerusalem, archaelogists have dug and dug and dug, and they still have not gotten to the pre-historic level.
And here is some more perspective: In our day and age, since the beginning of the Digital/Organic Era (which began when Bill Gates’ net worth reached $1 trillion), “new” refers to something that came into being in the last half-nanosecond.
In Rome, there is a beautiful church called Chiesa Nuova, the “New Church.” It was completed in 1606.
In Jerusalem, the Nea, the “new” church in honor of Mary the Mother of God, has lay buried beneath the rubble of earthquake and Persian destruction for 1200 years.
Today is the day the Nea was dedicated in A.D. 543.
Our Lady was born in Jerusalem. She was among the girls who cared for the Temple paraphernalia.
The above is a mosaic map of Christian Jerusalem. It is not easy to read. The Cardo, or main street, runs left to right through the middle of the city. The huge ancient basilica of the Holy Sepulcher is below the main street, the Nea is above it, to the right. There was an annual procession between the two churches.
…I am sorry that I allowed the following “Bests” list to get as stale as five-year-old granola bars. It is retired. An exciting new edition is available behind the Bests tab above.
Mount Zion, true pole of the earth, the Great King’s city! —Psalm 48
Some reflections on our visit to the empty tomb:
That Jesus Christ rose from the dead in the Holy Sepulcher is one of the most solidly established facts of ancient history.
It is not just that there are no bones in the tomb. (We pilgrims can say that we have seen this with our own eyes.)
It is also that there are multiple, independent eye-witness accounts of people who saw and spoke with Christ after He had been crucified and died.
History cannot be an exact science. The smarter bet is: Jesus Christ rose and walked out of the Holy Sepulcher. It is more likely that He did than that He didn’t.
The historical fact that Jesus came back from the dead is not itself an article of faith. We did not go on pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulcher just because Jesus rose from the dead there. We—and countless pilgrims before us—went to the empty tomb because of what the resurrection of Christ has to do with us.
But the man who rose from the dead in the Holy Sepulcher is the Son of God and the Redeemer of the world. The man who came back from the dead in the Holy Sepulcher is the Head of the Body of the Church. The man who came back from the dead in the Holy Sepulcher rose to everlasting life, the first fruits of the final resurrection.
This man’s coming back from the dead has everything to do with us. It is the most important fact of all the facts of life. We believe that because He walked out of the tomb, we can hope for every good thing from God.
Here the history of humanity was decisively changed. The long reign of sin and death was shattered by the triumph of obedience and life.
Here Christ, the new Adam, taught us that evil never has the last word, that love is stronger than death, that our future, and the future of all humanity, lies in the hands of a faithful and provident God.
The Holy Sepulcher is the center of the world. All time, all history, revolve around it. The entire universe revolves around this little cave.
We do not live in a chaos of darkness careening towards nothing. No: We live in the loving hands of the God who raised His Son from the dead in the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
We are sitting at our gate, watching the sun come up, wishing we could start the pilgrimage all over again. There are many things to report…
Before most of you dear readers went to bed on Sunday evening–after the glorious victory–we were already in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher.
We celebrated Holy Mass in the tomb of Christ itself, receiving the Lord’s Body and Blood in the very place where He rose from the dead.
…I neglected to mention earlier that some of us enjoyed camel rides by the Dead Sea…
…We visited the Mount of Olives:
At the top of it, the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven. On the slope of it, He taught His disciples the Our Father. He descended it on a donkey on Palm Sunday–we walked down the ancient pathway that He used.
At the bottom we prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.
…We made the Way of the Cross right where the Lord Jesus made it…
…We visited the Pools of Bethesda. The Blessed Mother was born nearby, in the home of Joachim and Anne, near the Sheep Gate of the ancient wall of Jerusalem, near the Temple.
…Schema, people: I have much more to tell. But it will have to await the gracious period of denouement after a holy pilgrimage.
We will board our flight home shortly. See you back in the homeland.
…Thanks to the wonders of internet technology, I am sitting here in the empty ballroom of a huge Jerusalem hotel listening to the second quarter of the Redskins-Broncos game. Suprisingly close! Go ‘Skins!
…This morning we celebrated Holy Mass at the rock where the Lord Jesus agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane. The place is enclosed by an evocative Barluzzi church, which is known as the Church of All Nations. It was built by donations from various countries, including the U.S. One of the interior domes is subtly emblazoned with the seal of the United States.
The Agony in the Garden may be the most important mystery of Christ’s life for us Americans–citizens of the land of the free.
Yesterday in Bethlehem we meditated on the Incarnation. The Son of God united our humanity to Himself, remaining a divine Person. As Fr. Golas put it, the Lord Jesus never agonized about His identity. He always knew His mission, His destiny. He always knew the gracious plan of the Father, a plan for our welfare but for His woe–at least for His woe in Gethsemane.
Christ, knowing all things, freely chose to embrace the will of the Father. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He taught the world what freedom really is.
Christ never agonized about His identity. But He did agonize. He agonized so intensely that He sweated drops of His Precious Blood.
Christ’s perfect freedom did not entail His stopping being human. We human beings do not want to suffer and die.
God truly became man; therefore, He wanted to live and be happy. He did not come to the garden because of some sick death-wish.
“Father, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.”
Freedom does not allow us to avoid all pain. Our generation of Americans has forgotten that freedom is something noble for which our forefathers suffered and died.
Freedom means doing the will of the Father. Freedom means harmonizing our wills with God’s will. Freedom means trusting God. The most free person is the one who trusts God the most. Trusting in Providence is the consummate act of freedom. The great anthems of our country have sung this truth.
The Father utterly vindicated Christ’s free act of trust. Christ loved life; He did not want to die. But He obeyed the will of the Father to the end. He offered His human life–then the Father gave it back to Him…
…We also visited Masada, where the last Zealots of the first Jewish rebellion held out against the Roman Tenth Legion. The Jews committed suicide rather than surrender.
We conducted a moral analysis of what happened. We concluded that committing suicide was not the right thing to do. Fight to the death, sure. Suicide? No…
…We also visited Qumran, and we floated in the Dea Sea for a few relaxing minutes.
Greetings from Jerusalem. To catch you up, dear reader:
…The Holy Land first welcomed us with lush greenery and bucolic countryside—the Galilee of the Lord’s youth. Traveling south, we came to harder country. Then we entered one of the tensest cities in the world.
One could ask: Where on earth is there a place so beautiful and peaceful that it would be a suitable location for the Son of God to teach and to heal? The shores of the Sea of Galilee are certainly beautiful and peaceful enough.
But one also must ask: What city on earth is such a jumble of antagonisms, long-standing grudges, and self-righteousness that it could kill the Son of God? Jerusalem is such a city.
…Yesterday we left Nazareth. We headed south. We renewed our Baptismal promises on the bank of the Jordan River.
We came to the place where the ancient Israelites entered the Promised Land after their journey back from Egypt. This is where the priests carried the Ark of the Covenant into the Jordan, the water piled up like a mound, and the people walked across the river bed with dry feet.
They headed for Jericho, and so did we.
The Lord Jesus passed through Jericho a number of times, when He Himself was on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
His most famous parable is about the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. We ascended to the Holy City on this pilgrim road (now paved)…
…This morning we visited the Upper Room, where: 1) The Lord Jesus instituted the Holy Mass, 2) He appeared after He rose from the dead, 3) the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles in tongues of flame.
Then we left Jerusalem and went out to the Judean hill country, to visit the church built where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. This is where our Lady came to help her cousin—the Visitation.
From there, we entered Bethlehem. After eating delicious falafel sandwiches, we entered Manger Square, the sight of so much Christian piety over the centuries.
We recalled the words of Popes who have come on pilgrimage here:
Pope John Paul II was here in 2000:
In Bethlehem it is always Christmas. ‘Here Christ was born of the Virgin Mary’: these words, inscribed over the place where Jesus was born, are the reason for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. They are the reason for my coming to Bethlehem today. They are the source of the joy, the hope, the goodwill, which, for two millennia, have filled countless human hearts at the very sound of the name “Bethlehem.”
People everywhere turn to this unique corner of the earth with a hope that transcends all conflicts and difficulties.
Bethlehem – where the choir of Angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men” (Lk 2:14) – stands out, in every place and in every age, as the promise of God’s gift of peace. Bethlehem is a universal crossroads where all peoples can meet to build together a world worthy of our human dignity and destiny.
Pope Benedict was here in May:
“Do not be afraid; for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy…today in the city of David a Savior is born for you” (Lk 2:10-11). The message of Christ’s coming, brought from heaven by the voice of angels, continues to echo in this town, just as it echoes in families, homes and communities throughout the world. It is “good news”, the angels say “for all the people”. It proclaims that the Messiah, the Son of God and the Son of David, has been born “for you”: for you and me, and for men and women in every time and place.
In God’s plan, Bethlehem, “least among the clans of Judah” (Mic 5:2), has become a place of undying glory: the place where, in the fullness of time, God chose to become man, to end the long reign of sin and death, and to bring new and abundant life to a world which had grown old, weary and oppressed by hopelessness.
Looking up at the Basilica, we could see that “the great church built over the Savior’s birthplace stands like a fortress battered by the strife of the ages,” as John Paul put it.
The main basilica, under the care of the Greek Orthodox, is in rough shape. Our visit to the grotto of the Nativity was very moving. Then we went to the cave of St. Jerome to celebrate Holy Mass.
From there we descended to the Shepherd’s Field, where the angels announced the birth of Christ to the humble men watching over their flocks by night.