And on the earth there will be anxiety among nations, with confusion caused by the sound and surging of the sea. People will collapse from fear and from dread of the things that are coming upon the inhabited world. For the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. When all these things start to happen, stand up! Lift up your heads, because your liberation is coming near!”
In the first part of today’s gospel, Luke describes the historical fact of the fall of the Temple of Jerusalem, an event that has already occurred as he writes. In the second part, however, the gospel writer turns his attention to the universal human experience of judgment: “anxiety, confusion, fear, and dread.”
Judgment does not tend to occupy a significant place in our consciousness these days. Yet, it remains an inescapable constituent of the life of faith. Even if we do not see ourselves as “sinners in the hands of an angry God,” if we believe that our lives are gifts to us for which we bear responsibility, the experience of judgment is inescapable.
One of our principal reasons for living lives of distraction and dispersion is that to stand before God bearing an appropriate sense of responsibility for our lives can easily evoke the anxiety, confusion, fear, and dread of which Jesus speaks. Have I lived in gratitude for the gift of my life, and have I generously poured out that life in the service of others? When have I given away what I have received, and when have I fearfully and selfishly hoarded my gifts? Have I and do I live in a spirit of mercy and forgiveness toward myself and others, or do I rage and gnash my teeth in anger and resentment?
The readings at this end of the liturgical year invite us not to submit to the fear and anxiety that arise when we realize our imperfection and smallness, but rather to “stand up” and “lift our heads” because the One is coming who will judge us in mercy and in love, whose very nature, as the father of the prodigal son, is forgiveness. Judgment is not condemnation but, as Jesus says in today’s gospel, liberation from the fear, anxiety, and shame that threatens to overwhelm us when we honestly recognize our ordinariness.
Those who live in this gentle light do just this. Therefore they are always peaceful and calm, and nothing can scandalize them because they have done away with what causes them to take scandal, their self-will. They trample underfoot all the persecutions the world and the devil can hound them with. They can stand in the water of great troubles and temptations, but it cannot hurt them because they are anchored to the vine of burning desire.
They find joy in everything. They do not sit in judgment on my servants or anyone else, but rejoice in every situation and every way of living they see, saying, “Thanks to you, eternal Father, that in your house there are so many dwelling places!” And they are happier to see many different ways than if they were to see everyone walking the same way, because this way they see the greatness of my goodness more fully revealed. In everything they find joy and the fragrance of the rose. This is true not only of good things; even when they see something that is clearly sinful they do not pass judgment, but rather feel a holy and genuine compassion, praying for the sinner and saying with perfect humility, “Today it is your turn; tomorrow it will be mine unless divine grace hold me up.”
Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, 100