There will not be left a stone upon a stone...

Devastation in Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan

Homily for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

There’s a bitter irony in what Jesus says in the gospel here
when you consider that these same scriptures will be read
in the islands of the Philippines today.

Many Filipinos will worship, if they’re able, in the open air or in tents
because their churches, their own temples of prayer,
have been destroyed, not a “stone left upon another stone,”
their sanctuaries having fallen victim to a disaster we call “natural.”

And not only their churches:  their loved ones and homes as well. 
We’re all familiar with what Jesus calls “signs from the skies,"
with stories of earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, droughts,
tornadoes, floods and typhoons that destroy and sweep away
the lives and dwellings of thousands upon thousands every year.

But Jesus speaks of another disaster, not natural in any way:
the disaster of those seized, persecuted and killed
on account of their faith.

And the Lord’s words here are as true today
as they were when he spoke them.
Experts on religious demography estimate that 70 million Christians
have been martyred since the time of Christ.

And this is not a fading trend.  Of those 70 million
it’s estimated that 45 million were martyred in the last century
and that such killings continue into this century at the rate of about
100,000 Christians killed for their faith each year.
Nor are Christians the only ones martyred for their faith.
People of all faiths are regularly persecuted
and far too often they are persecuted by people of another faith.

I have no more insight than you 
of when the world as we know it will end.
And I don’t submit these statistics to you to suggest
that the end time is just around the corner – although it could be.
We simply Do. Not. Know. 
What we DO know is that disasters and tragedies, natural or otherwise,
will always be part of our lives
and that in every age Christians will suffer for their faith.

In his words here Jesus is clearly trying to refocus our vision,
to set a broader horizon on our future
a horizon beyond whatever pain and loss is ours at the moment.
How else could he say, after describing such devastation, that
“not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
Since he had already said that many believers
would be handed over and put to death
he’s not saying our perseverance will secure our mortal lives.

He’s looking at a life beyond this life
and calling us to persevere through whatever suffering is ours
with our eyes focused beyond the pain of the moment
on a life and peace that have no end.

Catastrophic natural disasters and martyrdom
might never be your experience or mine
but these words of Jesus still have meaning for us:
• when our lives are flooded with illness and grief
we never imagined could be ours;
• when angry winds tear through our families
with hurricane force;
• when a financial drought takes the roof from over our heads;
• when an earthquake of bitterness topples a marriage;
• when a tornado of injustice twists human dignity for profit;
• when a tsunami of circumstances sweeps away
the happiness we’ve long known and treasured;
• when a typhoon of troubles  uproots us
from all that’s familiar and peaceful;
then, says the Lord,  even then: 
not a hair on your head will be destroyed: 
your perseverance will secure your lives. 

He calls us to look beyond the suffering of the moment,
to know that this, too, will come to an end and be resolved,
that all hope is not lost, for those who trust in God’s saving love.

This morning we join with the people of the Philippines
and with Filipinos around the world.
We pray for those who have died and for those who grieve.
We pray for those now homeless, hungry and without water
and for those who are working to reach them, rescue them
and bring them the medical care and supplies they need so much.

And we pray that through all of this
the people of the Philippines and all of us
will turn to the Lord who himself was
“seized, persecuted, handed over and put to death” for our sakes.

By his perseverance on the Cross
our lives were made secure, forever, 
for he is the Sun of Righteousness
and there is healing in his outstretched arms
as there is healing for us in his Body and Blood,
offered, risen and now present in the sacrament
at this altar where we pray.


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