We’re deep into the final week of the liturgical year, and our daily readings reflect the end of our calendar . . . which, in turn, reflects the End of Days. At the closing of our secular calendar, our thoughts turn toward what we can do to prepare for the next year. But in the liturgical year, our thoughts focus on how we can prepare for the next life.
In today’s Gospel selection from Luke, Jesus talks about how his followers will be seized and persecuted. How they will testify, with irrefutable wisdom given by Christ himself. How they will be handed over by parents, siblings, relatives, and friends. How some will be put to death.
The selection ends with powerful words from Christ: “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.”
Obviously that last sentence is not talking about our mortal lives. That wouldn’t make sense: “Some of you will die, but your lives will be secure.” No, it’s obviously talking about our immortal lives — our souls. And if the liturgical year is the encapsulation of an eternity with Christ — from the first moment we anticipate his arrival to the end times and his coronation as King of the universe — then our focus is on preparing for that life eternal, extending beyond the concerns and troubles of this mortal life . . . even if those troubles lead to the death of our mortal bodies.
There are still followers of Christ in this world who are persecuted, who are put to death for their faith. And these martyrs should be honored and admired, even as we strive to change the world and make it safer as we bring the Kingdom here on Earth.
But there are other ways that we risk their lives by following the faith. I donate blood nearly every chance I can – I’m scheduled to donate today – and, having read the warning documents, I imagine there’s a non-zero chance that something might go wrong. Those who serve the underprivileged often find themselves in neighborhoods that may prove more dangerous than if they’d stayed close to home. Many missionaries have risked their lives on their trips abroad, often paying the extreme price.
And that risk shouldn’t deter us. In fact, Christ’s words today should energize us, to remind us that he is there with us. He will grant wisdom when we need to defend ourselves. And even if our mortal forms die, our ultimate lives are secure with him.
Because we are being put to the test, on this day, in this liturgical year, in this life. Our answers to the day-to-day challenges will shape our years, and the actions of our years will forge the paths of our lives.
If a woman becomes pregnant, she is taking on a risk of complications or even death; giving birth to a child is one of the more dangerous things that humans have routinely done since before history began. And yet, no child can be born without the risks of childbirth. And expectant mothers accept those risks because they understand it comes with motherhood; you can’t accept a life with a child without also accepting a risk that comes from bearing it.
So, too, it is with the path of Christ. Most of us will not face any undue danger in our lifetimes for our faiths. But we should be ever conscious that we could, and that risk is part and parcel of what it means to be Christian. Christ’s notice today affirms that you can’t separate the faith from the risk . . . but that risk will be rewarded . Like today’s Alleluia proclamation says, “Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Much like advances in medical science have greatly reduced maternal complications, we can do what we can to mitigate the risk of being Christian – spread love among our families and friends, ensure society is accepting of the faith – but we can’t eliminate it entirely and still be considered Christian. Knowing and understanding that will bring us closer to Christ’s words and teachings . . . and finally closer to Christ himself.