"Heaven and Earth will pass away, but My works will not pass away."
When I was a little boy I had gotten the idea that the World Series was a set of baseball games played every year by the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. That is not as silly as it may sound, for I lived in the city where both teams played, and, in fact, the Series was played exclusively by those teams during most of my boyhood years. And Baseball was what most little boys talked about back in the early 50s, before girls were invented. We tend to generalize from what we observe around us.
When we get older and more mature, we tend to become concerned with more important competitions. And as those competitions become more personal, and less of a spectator occupation, we start thinking of them as challenges and conflicts. We begin by confronting the difficulties of getting an education, and then of finding a job. We begin to become aware of the society in which we live, and instead of Yankees versus Dodgers, we become concerned with Labor versus Management, and perhaps with Republican versus Democrat. If the world is a little more unsettled than usual, we may think of the other side as the Axis, or the Russians, or the Viet Cong, or whoever Big Brother currently has in his sights. Even in the Church, there seems to be a slowly changing parade of challengers (if not downright enemies) as the years go on. When we get on in years, we begin to worry less about the things around us as we begin to be concerned with our own personal mortality -- high blood pressure will probably get most of us before the Russians, the Moslems, or the Israelis do.
But if we can stand back a moment, we see that most conflicts that occupy human lives are transitory. Empires and kingdoms come and go: the Vikings and the Huns threaten no one today; Britain, France, and Spain no longer set the world agenda; the Axis Powers all seem now to be firm allies; as do the Russians, who used to be allies, and then mortal enemies, and now seem to be becoming allies again. In politics, two parties generally dominate the scene, as has been the case throughout American history, but you can no longer go to the polls and vote for the Federalists, or the Whigs, or the Democratic Republicans. Likewise, powerful companies and unions have come and gone or become unrecognizable. In 2000 years the Church has seen its challenges rise and fall; to most modern Catholics, Monothelitism, Sebellianism, Philip IV, Napoleon, and Garibaldi are mere names in a history textbook -- they and their grandchildren will probably not notice when those names are replaced by Roncalli, and Bugnini, and Montini in future editions.
The Gospel today, on the other hand, describes a more enduring struggle. Earlier in the same 24th chapter of Saint Matthew our Lord predicted the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, another power that is no longer much of a threat. But, in what we read today, our Lord describes some of the events that will surround the final judgement of the world. And, implicit in the notion of a final judgment is the reality that there is one everlasting enemy -- one who has been on the offensive since God created mankind in the persons of Adam and Eve. Call him "Satan," or "Beelzebub" if you like; "Legion" might be a better name, for there are many of him.
And, very likely, this legion of devils was on the scene whenever and wherever the history books tell of great human evil. The events of history are transitory, but they are real. Real people shed real blood, and real sweat, and real tears. Real men and real women sometimes lose their fortunes, their lives, or even their souls.
Most of us have no problem in seeing the devil at work in the people and the events of history that we don't like. The dictators, and the heretics, and the tyrants, and the mass murderers of the past are very easy to associate with the evil one. Often enough, we will pick on a Hitler or a Stalin and say that "he was the devil himself." We should recognize this connection. It is necessary for us to understand that to combat evil we must be able to see it in its broader perspective -- as part of the struggle between God and Satan for the souls of all mankind.
But we must also recognize that the devil also works in good people. And I don't mean in just the selfish personal sins that we commit and must confess every so often. The devil works most efficiently when he gets us to ignore his activities in the world around us, and gets us to take no action against them. He knows that having a few heretics, tyrants, and mass murderers in his employ will be rather useless if the rest of the population understands the need and duty to resist them. So consequently, the devil also works on the good people. He convinces them first of all to take delight in those personal sins of theirs, so that they get a little taste of evil, and won't be so shocked when they encounter greater evils. He convinces them that evil is everyone's private business -- that no one has the right to interfere or even comment on another person's evil -- for that would be hateful, bigoted, and even "judgmental." And, for good measure, he convinces them that he, the devil, does not exist -- that he is nothing more than a medieval superstition -- because he know that if everybody really believed that the devil does these things, they would resist him with much greater determination, and they would call upon God with much greater regularity.
Haven't we seen just this operation of the devil in our own society?
Look at the Church. What was the most "important" thing in the news 40 years ago? It was birth control! Divorce was a close second. And while we are at it, lets get rid of all those terribly uncomfortable things like Confession, and penance, and fasting, and abstinence, Advent and Lent. Catholics took the bait, hook, line, and sinker. Today we are little more than replacing our numbers in the population, and dissolving 60,000 marriages a year. Fridays are weekend party days, as are Advent and Lent. No one seems to have the fortitude to remind the Pope and the bishops that the recent sex abuse scandal comes from a much larger evil, for that would be judgmental. If you mention "the devil," most Catholics just smile, and, true to form, you can't find Jesus in many of our churches either. Can the average Catholic tell you the difference between "fraternal correction" and being "judgmental"?
And it is not just the Church. Civil society is permeated with self indulgence, often sinful -- just turn on the TV or pick up a magazine or a newspaper, and think about what you are seeing. Civil divorce rates are even higher than "Catholic" annulments (assuming that people bother to marry at all); we have unlimited license to kill our unborn children -- and the elderly and the frail will ccome next. Say something critical of another's bad behavior, or speak the truth about world events and you are guilty of a "hate crime." Civil society, of course, recognizes no devil, and seeks to accord the same non-recognition to God. It has become criminal for a judge to post God's law on the wall of his courthouse, for civil society must not, at any price, be reminded that its own laws are no longer reflections of even His natural law. It no longer entertains even the fiction that we are "republic ... under God.
Jerusalem's temple is long gone. The end of the world may come soon . . . or not. That is not the real importance of today's Gospel. The point of all of this is to remind us that individually, we must prepare for our own judgment now, no matter how much or how little time is left before the final judgment. It is for us right now, to "walk worthily of God ... bearing fruit in good work and growing in the knowledge of God." It is for us right now to "be strengthened through His glorious power to patience and long-suffering." It is for us right now to know that there is a devil, and never to cooperate with him in the damnation of Church and Society.
The temple was destroyed at Jerusalem, and the Dodgers have left Brooklyn, but we still have our lives to lead, in preparation for judgment -- and that preparation must be now.