25 November. Friday, Week 34
Saint Catherine of Alexandria, optional memorial
1st Reading:Revelation 20:1-4; 21:1-2
1000-year reign for those who reject the Beast
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be let out for a little while.
Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Gospel: Luke 21:29-33
Signs that the reign of God is near
Jesus told this parable to his disciples:
“Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
Colourful symbols for hidden realities
While the text from the Book of Revelation is typical of apocalyptic literature and full of elaborate symbolism, today’s gospel speaks in plainer language. Just as from the example of the budding fig tree we know that summer is near, so “when you see all these things happening, know that the reign of God is near.” Both readings for today offer symbols; but the meaning of these symbols must be sensitively intuited, and the instinct of faith must attune us to what God is saying by the signs about us.
The wildly imaginative book of Revelation was written under the pressure of intense persecution by imperial Rome, when the church felt hounded on all sides and to be known as a Christian was to risk imprisonment or martyrdom. The inspired seer of Patmos announced the proximate collapse of the tyrannical empire that would lead to a period of peace for the church. After that will come the second appearance of Christ, the new heavens and the new earth, the new holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, beautiful as a bride prepared to meet her husband.
Jesus invites ut to imagine the fig tree as in full bloom and the harvest as near, yet in our lives, in our neighbourhood and our world, we have to be realists too, able to carry on with the tasks in our everyday lives. A strange paradox : to be pragmatic while still somehow believing in the future, apocalyptic end of the world as we know it, quietly expecting the mysterious return of our Lord. This message will not go away, for it is the word of God, anticipating the new heavens and the new earth. Weird as it may seem right now, our very imperfect, sometimes chaotic, world will be transformed into the beautiful Jerusalem, the lovely bride prepared to meet her husband.
Living in a world of flux
We live in a world of flux and rapid change. We have seen many changes in society, changes in our church. Many find change disconcerting and unsettling. In the midst of change we need some constants. Generally we find change easier to manage if at least some things remain the same. In order to come to terms with change, we need some element of stability. In this gospel, Jesus speaks about change, not just on a small scale, but change on a cosmic scale, hugely significant change. He visualises heaven and earth as passing away; it is impossible to imagine a more radical change than that. Yet, after predicting this radical change, he immediately promises that something will never change. ‘My words will never pass away.’ In the midst of all our changes the Word of the Lord remains a constant, because our God remains a constant. In the midst of disconcerting change we know that the Lord abides; when everything else is moving, God remains unchanged, and our connection with him, our relationship to him, keeps us steady when all else seems unsteady. [MH]
St Catherine of Alexandria, virgin and martyr
Catherine, born in Alexandria, Egypt, was martyred in the early 4th century at the hands of emperor Maxentius. She is said to have visited Maxentius to argue against the imposing of idol-worship; but the emperor had her scourged and imprisoned, then tortured on a spiked wheel and finally beheaded. Her most famous shrine is Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai.