These readings are taking us to the “end times”: in one sense, the end of a liturgical year, but especially the end of all time when Christ comes again. The prophet Daniel foretells Archangel Michael’s great harvest of just and unjust. In Mark, Jesus seems to bypass angelic involvement in favor of His own surprise soul-sifting. Either way, to quote Led Zeppelin, “your time is gonna come.”
But that sifting time doesn’t completely and convincingly materialize this side of heaven. Meanwhile we have the perennial “problem of evil,” or as the Church’s Catechism calls it, the “mystery of evil.” Why and how does evil occur in the world—more precisely, why and how are people allowed to commit evil—sometimes seemingly without consequences, and without divine intervention?
While it remains a great scandal that God allows us to do evil, it is that very gift of freedom based on understanding and virtue that enables us to do good. Take away the possibility of evil from us, and you thereby take away the possibility of good. How incredibly powerful and complex has God made us! The fire that can, in one moment, drive people along the warpath of rage, also can drive people in the commitment of marriage, holy orders, and consecrated life. It depends on where we allow our hearts to roost.
I began to put my thoughts together before all this stuff in France happened! In case you haven’t heard it: on Friday militant Islamists killed over 120 people in Paris. The day before, it was Beirut. Not long before, a Russian airliner. Pope Francis aptly referred to these terrorist actions as a kind of drawn-out Third World War.
At the same time, wars happen, to our minds, outside of us. We are tempted to distance ourselves from them and objectify them. Beyond the initial fear and outrage, we must remember—and we do remember—that there’s the solidarity of grief and prayer; but also there is the renewed battle call to personal holiness and mission.
We might say, “Let’s hear it for children and for saints,” as they seem so enviably single-hearted in their pursuit of happiness, goodness, and faith. But a sappy love of children, or even saints, will not make us childlike or saintlike. Suddenly, having become adults, we renew our maturity again and again by harnessing of our passions for beauty, our understanding for truth, and our freedom for goodness; in so doing we pay the best homage to childhood and sanctity.
All of this is rooted in Jesus the Christ, who, Hebrews reminds us, “offered one sacrifice for sins, and took His seat forever at the right hand of God.” “Now,” the letter continues, “He waits until His enemies are made His footstool.” Are the men and women of ISIS “His enemies?” Is God’s inspired Word accomplished in their elimination? Or is the one sacrifice of Christ the means to accomplish even their salvation and consecration...even ours?