(Readings of the Holy Mass – Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Long distance athletic events require a lot of training, planning and endurance for the men and women who participate or compete. A marathon is 26.2 miles – elite athletes can complete a course in somewhere under three hours; average athletes take four and one-half hours. In bicycling, the “Century” or 100 mile ride can take seven and one-half hours for the average cyclist. In triathlon, the Iron Man consists of a full marathon, 112 bike ride and a 2.4 mile swim; for the so-called “average” participant it takes approximately thirteen hours. One of the common traits for men or women participating in these sports is perseverance. They have to spend long periods of training, conditioning and practicing just to participate. Perseverance permeates their efforts.
I recently read an article which recalled Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell’s efforts to “free climb” Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan. The mountain’s sheer “Dawn Wall” is three thousand feet high (for comparison, the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE, is 2717 ft tall). It took just under three weeks to make the dangerous climb. In between climbs, they would rest in tents suspended hundreds of feet in the air. Over and over again, they would slowly make their way up the cliff, fingers being sliced on the razor sharp rock and they progressed. They used social media to communicate their efforts and many people followed along. Jorgeson later speculated on why he thought people would be so interested. He said: “It’s a big dream, it requires teamwork and determination and commitment. And those aren’t climbing-specific attributes. Those are common to everybody, whether you’re trying to write a book or climb a rock.” At one point on the journey, he recalled a particularly rough day: “Razor sharp holds ripped both the tape and the skin right off my fingers. As disappointing as this is, I’m learning new levels of patience, perseverance and desire. I’m not giving up. I will rest. I will try again. I will succeed.” And succeed they did, finishing the climb on January 14, 2015.
Perseverance is one of the themes for today’s liturgy. The end of the liturgical year and the beginning of a new one is quickly approaching. At this time of the year, we focus on the goal of life, not just our individual lives but those of all peoples of all times. Just the same, it is good for us to hear the word of encouragement and the call for perseverance.
Jesus, using a literary style called “apocalyptic,” speaks of the turmoil of the last days. The “last days” point to the time when the world will be transformed. The transformation comes with the return of Christ Jesus and the ultimate victory of good over evil. The turmoil comes with this struggle. We can easily relate to this battle when we see the conflict unfold in the world around us. When we see the quest for justice, when we see a people or person who are/is oppressed longing for freedom, or when we see communities racked with violence. We may also see it in ourselves when we struggle with choosing the good and avoiding evil. Jesus uses the “apocalyptic” imagery to point to the time where this battle will reach resolution and the good will triumph and evil will be contained forever.
Jesus encourages us to remain faithful saying: “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” Jesus is not just speaking about the “end times” however, for as He tells us elsewhere: “you do not know the day or the hour.” (cf. Matthew 24:36-44) He is encouraging us to live our lives well and good, now. Perseverance is essential.
One element in the passage may help build us up in confidence to face the challenges of life which might cause fatigue, worry, suffering, disappointment or even fear. This is Jesus’ abiding presence. It comes across in the passage when Jesus speaks of the faithful being persecuted and brought before a judge (in this case kings or governors). He says: “Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.” Jesus is present in our lives. He knows well what challenges, small and large, which we face. He is there to help. He is there to defend. We are not alone.
The first reading echo’s a similar theme of the “end times.” On that “day,” “all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble.” The faithful are encouraged with hope “for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.” The “sun of justice” is the “Son” Jesus who has trumped death in His resurrection and will return for the final victory. Hope in Him strengthens our perseverance.
Saint Paul urges the Thessalonians in the second reading not to be “busy-bodies” but to work diligently. The context here, unlike the other readings, does not deal with the “end-times” or the battle with evil. Rather, it is more day-to-day, fulfilling the requirements of good living. In this case, not presuming on someone else’s kindness but to persevere in working for the food we eat. This too requires perseverance. He uses himself, and his companions, as examples for they: “… did not act in a disorderly way among you, nor did we eat food received free from anyone. On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you.” The passage is a good reminder that all our efforts in life are interrelated and part of the whole of who we are. Paul encourages us to persevere in doing good even in one of the most basic elements of our daily life – work.
The definition of perseverance, according to Merrin-Webster, is “to persist in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spike of counterinfluences, opposition or discouragement.” Jesus urges us to persevere in living the life of faith, knowing that He is with us to help, guide and encourage for in the end, His victory will be realized among us.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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