‘We’re doomed, Mr Mainwaring, we’re all doomed’. Thus spoke John Laurie’s fictional Home Guard platoon member, Private James Frazer fifty-odd years ago in that timeless sitcom Dad’s Army. And as if to reinforce the point, Antonio Guterres the UN chief at the COP27 summit last Monday said ‘We are on a highway to climate hell, with our foot still on the accelerator.’ And to add even more depressing news to this incessant fire, on Tuesday of this week I watched a Panorama special on the destruction of the city of Mariupol in Ukraine. It was as harrowing as it was gripping and from the comfort of my home in a peaceful west London suburb, I watched in real time as the indiscriminate taking of life unfolded before me, children, women, men.
Our readings this weekend, on this the 33rd Sunday of the year, almost at the end of the liturgical year outwardly offer little by way of comfort: the prophet Malachi depicts the day of the Lord as the mother of all cosmic upheavals; Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians berates those who ‘down tools’ because they are fearful of an end which is immanent – ‘What’s the point of doing anything now when the end is nigh?’; and the message from Luke? No comfort there I am afraid: ‘everything destroyed….nation will fight again nation…..you will be betrayed even by parents…..and some of you will be put to death……’ Time to pack our bags and go home?
Predicting the future is a dangerous pastime, it attracts people and draws people in. But it is really not about being victimised by events. Human inquisitiveness of course likes to know the details, the where, the when and the how but it is not in the nature of things for this to be given, which is maybe just as well. So in our Gospel this Sunday, maybe Luke is preparing his listeners simply to understand the meaning of their own sufferings as he is inviting us witness to and cling to the transcendent love that holds us. The ‘highway to climate hell’, the slaughter of the innocents that took place in Mariupol – these images are real, not mere metaphors of human weakness. So the question then becomes is ours a faith which faces disaster or a faith which endures? There can be no glib answers when we witness the pointless suffering of so many and still believe in a God who loves and cares. That simply does not wash, nor should it. Jesus himself has no quick answers. Rather, he is inviting us to hold fast. “If we had the answers, our faith wouldn’t have to endure. Because the questions are still with us, we pray for an enduring faith.” (Denis McBride C.Ss.R). Despite the horror, the events in Mariupol earlier this year offered hope. I would urge you to watch it.