Gray and Gold, John Rogers Cox, 1942, Cleveland Museum of Art
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C
Malachi 3:19-20a; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19
“Persevere, Novice Craig.” I would hear those words addressed to me from time to time during my novitiate in the monastery. Honestly, I didn’t find them very helpful. And they’re not—if by perseverance one means dogged determination, or to “grin and bear it.” The truth of the matter is that absolutely no one, under any circumstances whatsoever, can summon and sustain such perseverance, such self-will. We are, after all, only human.
Perseverance, I have come to realize, is much more than simply holding on for dear life, and sticking it out to the end. Tenacity, however strong, only goes so far. It must be underpinned by something else. To persevere, The American Heritage Dictionary (Second College Edition) states, means to “persist in or remain constant to a purpose, idea, or task in the face of obstacles or discouragement.” It involves believing that however arduous (or even evil!) things may be, there is purpose and meaning within them capable of being directed toward the good. Something—or someone—makes it all worth it in the end.
From a Christian perspective, this underpinning, purpose, or worthwhile aim is faith, pure and simple. And faith is not something anyone can produce, pursue, or possess on one’s one. It is a gift from God, without whom we can do nothing, and with whom all things are possible (cf. John 15:5; Mark 10:27). Faith is what enables us to persevere amid trying circumstances. Faith makes it possible for difficulties to be transformed into pathways toward the good (cf. Romans 8:28). In this way, as
St. Benedict writes in his Rule for monks, “hardships and
difficulties” will “lead [the novice, or Christian] to God” (58:8).
The only way to receive faith is to sincerely ask for it. “Lord, increase our faith!” the apostles asked Jesus. And receiving it means participating in the means by which God bestows it. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “To live, grow, and persevere in the faith until the end, we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith; it must be ‘working through charity,’ abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church” (No. 162). Scripture, prayer, good works, and the tradition and life of the Christian community are what bestow and build our faith—therefore helping us to persevere in difficult times.
By definition, disciples of Christ will meet with difficult times, and therefore need to nourish the faith that strengthens our ability to persevere. That was true in Jesus’ time. It is true in our own time. And it has been true in every age in between. Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel are unsettling. Christians in this beautiful yet fallen world will not escape wars, natural disasters, hardships, disease, and especially persecution. “They will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name,” Jesus says. However, he promises the faithful follower that from an eternal perspective, it will all be worth it—that hardships and difficulties are indeed capable of leading one to God, not just in the future but today, at this very moment. For the one with faith, it all contains meaning and purpose, the capability of bringing about good.
“Not a hair on your head will be destroyed,” Jesus says. “By your perseverance, you will secure your lives.”
And so, as the other readings today point out, we must work quietly, mind our own business (rather than everyone else’s), and trust that “there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays” amid all the trials and difficulties we find ourselves in. As the prophet Micah wrote, “You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
This is faith, and with it we persevere.