“For the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.... He will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”
To understand today’s Gospel, it would help if you were to read the end of chapter 23 and all of chapter 24 in Saint Matthew’s Gospel. In chapter 23 our Lord warned the Pharisees that they were missing the point of God’s Law and God’s revelation by interpreting them in a worldly way—and that very soon God was going to bring the worship in their Temple to an end by destroying it. In chapter 24 our Lord addressed His disciples and went into even greater detail about how He would soon destroy the Temple—and also He described how the entire world would some day end with the Day of Judgment.
I say that it would help to read all of this, but please understand that this chapter is written according to the literary style of the Jews which we call “apocalyptic.” If you have read (or tried to read) the Apocalypse at the end of the Bible, or if you have read the book of Daniel the prophet, which our Lord mentions today, you know that in such writing it is very difficult to figure out what time to assign to the events that are mentioned. In some cases the writer is describing past, present, and future all in the same paragraph.
In the Apocalypse, Saint John wrote to the Christians who were suffering severe persecution around the year 100 AD—he wrote to comfort them and to encourage them to keep the Faith in spite of their bad treatment. But it doesn’t take the reader long to realize that some of the events in the Apocalypse had already taken place; some were taking place in 100 AD; and some were clearly in the far future, at the end of the world. Rarely can the reader identify the exact timeframe for any given event. One of the people at our Catholic Studies Group explained this very well—apocalyptic literature is not primarily about “this time” or “that time,” but rather it is about “all times.” Just as the contemporary reader of the Apocalypse could draw strength from John’s words in 100 AD, it would furnish encouragement to readers in 1000 AD, or 1500 AD, or even in our own time. When we read such parts of the Bible we see past, present, and future, every much as did our Catholic compatriots almost two-thousand years ago.
At the time of today’s Gospel our Lord predicted that the destruction of the Temple lay about forty years in the future —but it is something which is now part of our past, having happened in 70 AD. But His description does not clearly separate the end of the Temple from the end of the world—it is not intended to, for, as He says later in chapter 24, we are to “watch for we do not know the hour at which the Lord is to come.... at an hour that we do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
This “abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet” is a good example of this sort of timeless prophecy. Daniel was a prophet of the Babylonian Exile. The first destruction of the Temple lay a few years in his past—and with that destruction, the sacrifices ordered by God in the Mosaic Law came to a halt, bringing desolation to the Jews. But the Exile would end sometime in Daniel’s future, and the Temple would be rebuilt, and the sacrifices would resume. But then, in the time following Alexander the Great, Jerusalem and the Temple would be plundered, and the desolation would again continue until the time of the Machabees.
On the day of the crucifixion of Christ, just a few days in the future from today’s Gospel events, the curtain of the Holy of Holies in the Temple would be torn from top to bottom, suggesting that God’s presence (the divine Shekinah) no longer dwelt there. Forty years later, the Romans would demolish the Temple, the sacrifices would end, and Jerusalem would become a city dedicated to the pagan god Jupiter—an abomination of desolation of the first magnitude from the Jewish point of view.
The Christians of Jerusalem, forewarned by our Lord’s prophecy, were able to escape and go elsewhere. And they had our Lord with them—both in the teachings of the Catholic Faith, and in the Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass. Later, they would decide to reserve the Blessed Sacrament after Mass, so that our Lord could be taken to the sick, and the imprisoned, and to those who lived in the solitude of the desert—He could even be visited and worshipped as churches began to reserve the Sacred Host for public devotion. There was no desolation in Christendom when our Lord was there.
But there were bad times, even for the early Christians. The persecutors sometimes disbanded them, sometimes even desecrating the Blessed Sacrament (or trying to, as in the case of Saint Tarcisus’ martyrdom). Even when Christianity became legal, Christendom was plagued by invaders for centuries: the barbarians and the Vikings from the north; the terrible Huns from Mongolia in the east; and the soldiers and pirates of the Moslems from the south. Churches and monasteries were favorite targets of those who came to plunder. Great Christian cities and nations became abominations of desolation as the Catholic Faith became illegal again in countries under Moslem domination—sometimes permanently as in North Africa, or for many centuries as in Spain. In more modern times, Protestantism brought the same desolation to the churches of northern Europe as the Mass and the priesthood were suppressed. During all of these times, for century after century, Catholic people quite naturally wondered if they were not living through the abomination of desolation mentioned in today’s Gospel. And, of course, they wondered if they were not living in the days just before our Lord’s second coming and the Day of Judgment. In many cases they even had the “false prophets” mentioned by our Lord, who were there to announce the end of all things—in each of those centuries.
In our own century we have cause for the same wondering and speculation. We have seen desecration and loss of reverence engulf most of the Church; we have seen unprecedented immorality in the episcopate and the priesthood, as we have seen unprecedented decline in marriage and marital morality among the laity; we are seeing churches sold in large numbers to pay for the criminal costs of immorality. No one in authority wants to even consider the immorality not covered by civil law—or if it is considered, the guilty are rewarded with plush benefices, while the few with courage are punished. Vocations to the priesthood (not to mention the convent—don’t even think about that) are down to a few percent of what they were fifty or a hundred years ago. Even where churches remain open and staffed, we have every right to wonder if they are not still part of the abomination of desolation in our century.
And let us not forget the abomination in civil society, with its war against religion, and war against the family, and war against our own unborn babies. Or the shooting wars and state sponsored terrorism that have killed many, many, millions of people, and which have profited only the global bankers.
Understand, though, that we are very much like the people of Saint John’s time, or like all of those who witnessed the invasions of Western Civilization, or the incursions of unbelief upon the Faith. No matter how bleak things looked then, or look to us today—no matter what the self appointed prophets say—we still “know not the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man will come in judgment.”
In every age it is of the utmost importance for people to persevere in their Faith; to refuse to give up and accept what many say is the “inevitable”; it is imperative to resist the abomination of desolation in whatever ways may be possible.
The lesson to be learned from this Gospel, and from history, is that no matter what happens—whether the end of the world is today or tomorrow or not for another two-thousand years—the “elect” will be taken care of—“the tribulation of those days will be shortened and the “elect” will be gathered in from the four winds.” And the “elect” are simply those described by Saint Paul in today’s Epistle: who “walk worthy of God and please Him in all things ... in every good work ... in the knowledge of God ... strengthened through His glorious power unto patience and long suffering.” Saint Peter tells us that “by our good works we make sure our calling and election.”
There will be no abomination of desolation for us, as long as our Lord is with us—as long as we come to visit Him and to pray before Him in the tabernacle—as long as we are able to call Him down to our altar each day in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
We must live this day and every day with the knowledge that it could be the last day—not by giving into pessimism and despair—but by a continuous effort to do the will of God and to make that will known to those around us. Every day could be the last day—some day will be our last day—even if The Last Day, the Day of Judgment doesn’t come for centuries.
“Strive by your good works to make sure your calling and election.... for the Lord will gather in His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”
 Gospel Matthew 24: 15-35
 Matthew 24: 42, 44.
 Cf. Epistle: Colossians 1: 9-14.
 2 Peter 1:10.