First Reading: Malachi 3: 19-20a
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 98: 5-6, 7-8, 9
Second Reading: 2 Thessalonians 3: 7-12
Gospel: Luke 21: 5-19
“By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
Here in the northern hemisphere, in November, Mother Nature and Mother Church conspire to remind us that our life on earth is valuable and beautiful, but also short and only part of the story. If we want to make the most of it, we need to keep the ultimate things firmly in mind.
Each leaf on the tree in our front yard has turned its customary deep crimson, having spent the summer making oxygen for us and sugar for the tree to grow and to live on during the long Chicago winter. To our unpracticed eyes, all of the leaves look pretty much the same, but each one is an individual and each one has played its part in bringing life and beauty to the world. Now the leaves are gracefully and still beautifully going back to the earth. Like the leaves on the tree on our front yard, we have been given a season to make our small but valuable and beautiful mark on this world before passing — we hope with beauty and full of grace — on to the world that awaits us.
Mother Church reminds us in November of all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. While we feebly struggle, the saints in glory shine, supporting us with their prayers. Likewise, we pray for the departed who have yet to reach their final hope, and from them we ask for prayers. And we have much need of their help — the saints and the soon-to-be-saints — for the work of discipleship is always arduous, sometimes exhausting, frequently frustrating, and occasionally dispiriting. But with the help of the great cloud of witnesses that surround us, we persevere.
“By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
When Jesus speaks these words to his disciples, he’s referring to the perseverance they will need to withstand the social and political trials they will have to endure because of his name. Faithful disciples will have many adversaries, including even their own families, who will hate them “because of my name.” Most of us are fortunate that our discipleship does not put us in such danger as the early Christians faced. Yet we all know that we face pressure from within and without to forsake the difficult road to the Reign of God and conform to the ways of this world, or to give in to our basest and most self-indulgent inclinations. Whatever the context, following Christ is not easy, and it requires perseverance.
Perseverance is, I think, an under-appreciated virtue, yet a necessary one. Let’s just take the example of our own struggles to overcome what has traditionally been called our besetting sin, or our predominant fault — that sin, maybe grievous, maybe not, that we cannot seem to eradicate from our lives. We all have them. If we can’t name them, we can poll our friends and family, who probably can. How frustrating it can be to keep coming back, over and over, to this persistent troublemaker over which we continually stumble. It’s easy to despair of ever being rid of it, and we might be tempted to “give up and give in,” to convince ourselves it’s not such a big deal after all. But we can’t, not only because we are called to overcome our sins with God’s grace, but also because it is the very struggle to overcome them that contributes to the beauty of our lives.
I have often been discouraged by what I thought was a lack of progress in overcoming some unwanted behaviors, but I think of all the saints, an Augustine or a Teresa of Avila, who labored over years and years to overcome some persistent sin or fault. They kept the course, they stayed in the game, they fought the good fight, and they were already victorious simply because they refused to stop struggling. By the grace of Christ their Lord, they persevered, and thus they secured their lives. And such beautiful lives they lived, adorned not so much with perfection, but with the faithful struggle to overcome infidelity.
Our own struggles to be faithful, to overcome our sins, to walk humbly with our God, can be overwhelming, and we can be tempted to give up. But November reminds us to pray for the grace of perseverance, the grace to hang in there like the saints and the holy souls did, to remember that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31). Everything, even our worst faults, can contribute to our beautiful lives if we allow the grace and healing of Christ to touch them and, in God’s own time, transform them. We just need to persevere, and we will secure our lives.
When St. Gertrude became despondent at her own spiritual weaknesses, Christ had this to say to her: “Just as manure fertilizes the earth, the sentiment that a soul has of its infirmity germinates gratitude within her; and every time she is humbled by her faults I grant her the grace that destroys them. Gradually, I transform the imperfections into virtues. One day the soul will be surprised to see everything in a clear, shadowless light.” Amen.
Br. John R. Barker, OFM
Associate Professor of Old Testament Studies
Interim MDiv Director