The End of the World

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Beloved in Jesus Christ,
In the Gospel today, we encounter this striking scene; Our Lord had just spent the whole day in the Temple[i] debating with the Scribes and Pharisees, but it was impossible to penetrate their stone hearts. As he was leaving there, he overheard some people speaking of the great beauty of the temple, and going on and on about it – But he said to them, ‘Do you see all these things? Amen, I say to you, there will not be left one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’ – This place will be destroyed. And every single stone will be turned over.-
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The disciples were breathless with fear of what his words might mean. For them, those were shocking prophecies: the total destruction of the great Temple of Jerusalem, and the future destruction of the world. In the Holy Scriptures, we find that the earth – creation itself – is really seen as one giant temple. The Garden of Eden was described using some temple-imagery, the psalmist uses imagery to depict creation as a temple, with human beings as the priests, offering Creation to God.
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Now scholars tell us that the Temple of Jerusalem was really supposed to be a microcosm of this world, it was an image, if you will, of this world: The huge ‘sea’ of water, walls carved with flowers, a giant grape vine over the entrance; the blue veil in front of the Holy of Holies symbolized the sky, and beyond the sky, the Holy of Holies represented heaven. If the Temple was therefore a sign of this universe, what does it mean if would be destroyed? A sign of the coming end of this world; and so, in one breath Our Lord speaks of both. ‘I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’ ‘This generation shall not pass away, until all these things have been accomplished.’
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And so it was true – the shocking destruction of the temple took place in those people’s generation, just 37 years after Jesus’ prophecy. After it was burned to the ground, the greedy soldiers searching for the gold that melted from the fire, turned over every single stone to get it. But not just the end of the temple was prophesied; the world as well: ‘the day nor the hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven,’ says the Lord. ‘People will be eating and drinking – partying away – as in the days of Noah. ‘You will hear of wars and rumors of wars; nation will rise against nation; there will be pestilence and famines and earthquakes. They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And there will be a great tribulation such as has not been from the beginning of the world. So Our Lord is speaking at once about the end of the Temple, and also the coming end of the world.
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I was at an airport a few years ago, about to finally read this book I had with me, when a young Jewish man came over to talk. He was studying to be a Rabbi and he recognized me as a Catholic priest. ‘This is a sad time for us, he said, ‘it is the ‘Three Weeks;’ the Bein ha-Metzarim.[ii] This is when we remember the destruction of the Temple. I said to him, Yes, the destruction of the temple in 70AD. But you know, we Christians have another understanding of this, not so sad. The temple was great and glorious, for sure, and it was the site of the sacrifices by the priests. But the temple was a sign, a pre-figurement, pointing to a new priesthood of Jesus, the Messiah – a new Sacrifice – and a New Temple. Ezekiel prophesied an entirely new, glorious temple. And this glorious temple is in heaven, which the Jewish temple was preparing for. Destroyed? Only in the sense that it was a sign, preparing the way. That temple offered sheep and goats in sacrifice, but those pre-figured the True Sacrifice of the Messiah, which we renew on our altars today. The priesthood continues, the priesthood of Jesus – and at the Catholic Mass, we are participating in the praise of God in the Eternal Temple of heaven.
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We spoke some more, especially about the Jewish roots of our Faith. The Mass as fulfillment of Passover. Then he said, ‘Father, almost no one knows, even few Jewish people know, that it was also at this time of the Three Weeks, that we believe Moses threw down and broke the 10 commandments because of sin.[iii] So we are mourning this too. ‘That’s VERY interesting,’ I told him. And I thanked him for the discussion, time to get on the plane, he was on a different flight.
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So I’m on the plane, sitting down, just opening my book finally, and the woman next to me says, ‘You’re a priest.’ ‘Yes,’ I said. I’m Jewish!, she said. ‘Oh.’ In fact, I have been doing research on my religion in Israel. Father, did you know that this is a very sad time for us? It is when the Temple was destroyed. ‘I said, yes. And you know, it is very interesting, that it was also during this time, long before, that Moses broke the 10 commandments.’ ‘How did you know that?!!!!!!’, she asked me!
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Friends, people today live as if the world will never end, as if THEY will never end. When I cover the subject of the End Times with the kids in school, one question I always ask is very simple: ‘True or false: This world will one day come to an end.’ True. Strangely, we have to be reminded of this.
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At the end of the Liturgical Year, Mother Church presents to us this subject, to be pondered: the End Times. Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple, which happened in the exact detail as he described it. So when he tells us that this world will end, it will. This world, this life – is temporary. And so this week, we remember our mortality; we know not when the world will end, nor when our life will end; So?
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So we live today as a faithful child of God, come what may. What we have done in our past is not so important; what we choose to be today is what matters, so that we will end well. As St. John Vianney used to say, ‘All the saints did not start out so well, but they ended well.’ May the Blessed Virgin help us all, that when the end will come, we may end very well.

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[Entrusted to the prayers of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton]

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[i] A Parochial Course in Doctrinal Instructions, p. 540

[ii] The day the destruction of the Temple is remembered is Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av at the end of the Three Weeks.

[iii] The breaking of the 10 Commandments was on the first day of the Three Weeks, Tammuz 17.

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