“Watch this YouTube video as soon as possible,” the woman said, quickly scribbling an internet address on a scrap of paper. “World War III is about to break out, and then Jesus will come back.”
She pressed the paper into my hand and left our parish’s adoration chapel. A minute later, a gentleman came in, took a seat and whispered to me, “Pray hard. I just heard from a lady on her way out that the world is about to end.”
As I returned to my rosary, I thought that maybe the Lord really should wrap up his cosmic game, or at least blow the whistle and bench a few players. Every headline seemed increasingly filled with unbearable hardship. Disasters, natural and man-made, ravaged the planet and the psyche. Bullets, bombs and bushfires scarred soil and soul.
“Read a few history books; you’ll feel better,” a friend reassured me. “Life on earth has always been rough. It’s no worse now than it’s always been. Actually, with modern medicine and indoor plumbing, it’s a lot better.”
Perhaps, I thought, but nuclear weapons weren’t an issue in the 14th century, and millions in the present still don’t have access to basic healthcare and sanitation. No matter the millennium, the human heart remains, in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, “more tortuous than anything … beyond remedy; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9)
The answer, of course, is the Lord, who “[explores] the mind and [tests] the heart” (Jer 17:10), and who — through the death and resurrection of Christ — gives us “a new heart, and a new spirit” (Ez 36:26), replacing the “heart of stone” with “a heart of flesh” (Ez 26:26).
But do we as Christians really believe that? Because if we do, this world should look a whole lot different.
How many of us really embrace Christ as a Savior — not simply as an ethical guide, a life coach or a kind of “spiritual teddy bear”?
How many of us consistently follow his command to “love (our) enemies, and pray for those who persecute (us)” (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27-28)?
How many of us can look head on at gun violence, sexual abuse, geopolitical conflict, environmental destruction or any number of human ills and say, “I know who can heal the suffering and rage of the human heart”?
We often hesitate to answer with “Jesus Christ,” because it’s quite easy to sanitize the Cross and to sterilize the Eucharist in our hearts. We can glance at a crucifix, so familiar an image after more than 2,000 years, and not see that it is first of all “an act of violence, of hatred, that tortures and destroys,” as Pope Benedict XVI — writing as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — reminds us.
But those blood-soaked beams became the very framework of the universe, where Christ wrought “the true transformation that the world needs and that alone is capable of redeeming the world” (“Eucharist, Communion, Solidarity”).
In a way only he could, Christ changed from within “men’s act of violence against him into an act of self-giving,” and as a result, “the act of killing, of death, is changed into love; violence is conquered by love.”
For that reason, “love is stronger than death; it lasts.”
And we enter into that victory through the Eucharist: “Without the Cross, the Eucharist would remain mere ritual; without the Eucharist, the Cross would be merely a horrible profane event” (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “Eucharist and Mission”).
Inseparable from the Cross, the Eucharist is a “sacrament of transformation” — of violence into love and self-giving, of the mortal body into the immortal, of the gifts of bread and wine, of our very selves, and of all creation.
If I become Christ, if you become Christ, others — aching for solace and security in a profoundly wounded world — will in turn be drawn to the source of all life.
And in the process, we’ll not only avert World War III, but we’ll build a new Jerusalem where all peoples shall “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks,” and where they “shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again” (Is 2:4).
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