Monday, 8 March 2010

A Different Kind of Perishing

Yesterday we heard in the Gospel one of those cryptic sayings of our Lord. You will of course have heard it too: it was in the passage referring to two recent calamities: the lethal collapse of the tower, and the victims of the Romans, whose blood was mingled with that of their sacrifices. Two horror stories. In our day they would attract the response: How could a good God allow such things to happen? But at the time of Christ the standard response was to wonder: Was this a punishment for their sins? Jesus denies this; but adds: “Unless you repent, you will all perish as they perished”. This seems at first sight to contradict His denial.

A great opportunity to explain this confusing passage to the congregation. But we had a Holy Ghost father visiting the parish: a lovely man, who gave an interesting talk about the Spiritans’ work, and appealed for donations and prayer. His address replaced the homily.

Fortunately, there is a very good article on the subject in the Catholic Herald, written by Mgr William Shomali, the chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem: The Lord is there in our suffering.

I used to puzzle over this text, until it occurred to me that it might be one of those examples of a slippage or blending of things, such as one finds in, for example, the Eschatological Discourse, where it is hard to unravel references to the impending destruction of Jerusalem from those dealing with the Second Coming.

I am very happy to be corrected on this, but I think Christ is talking about two different kinds of death: the temporal and the eternal. The sudden fate of falling into the hands of the Living God may come upon any of us. They perished from the earth; but those who do not repent of their sins will perish eternally. A very sobering thought.

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