NOVEMBER 13, 2016
Last week I accompanied a friend to a city’s hospital. We took a shuttle at 2 am. After the half hour mark, a policeman stopped us. The chauffeur looked for his paper and also pulled out some cash from his pocket and put it inside the paper then ran off to meet the agent. 30 seconds later he came back. I asked, “What’s happening? Did you violate any traffic law? Or is he your friend? The chauffer started driving away and answered, “Nothing! It’s just a routine. He didn’t say anything, didn’t check the paper but looked inside it carefully, pulled out my cash and signaled me to go. Maybe he needed money for breakfast.” The sun hadn’t risen yet but the traffic was so terrible. We spent 2.5 hours to go the distance of 80km. My watch showed 4:30 am.
Thousands of people were everywhere, inside and outside of the hospital. We went to the information desk, paid the hospital fees and took the orderly number. That was number 5523. Doctors started receiving patients at 6 am. There were 10 doctors in a hall. Each doctor had a small desk and a chair for patients and each of them may receive more than 500 patients a day. After waiting for 10 hours, my friend met the doctor for 30 seconds. He asked my friend two questions and sent him to take a blood test then come back to see him the next day. We could go to the hotel for the night but my friend wanted to have the same experience as many other patients have. We bought a sleeping mat and paid the hallway fees stayed overnight on the floor with many people. Each one had about 2 m2 to lay down and hoped to get the exam done the next day...
These stories are part of peoples’ lives in a certain country where life and human rights are so cheap and the common citizens are treated like “dirt.” The Gospel of this weekend tells us some kind of “dirt” would fall on the people at Jesus’ time too. The Jews of Jesus' time were proud of the great Temple of Jerusalem which king Herod had re-built some 25 years before the first Christmas. 10,000 people had worked on the project and it had taken 10 years to complete it, although the work of decorating carried on for many years afterward. No wonder the Gospel tells us "some were talking about the Temple, remarking on its magnificence." It was inconceivable that anything should happen to it. The temple of Jerusalem was a symbol of God's presence among his people. The destruction of the temple would be the sign of the end of the world. And yet, Jesus prophesied its destruction. We know this happened in 70 A.D. So that today only the so-called "wailing wall" survives.
We should note that in today's gospel the end of the world is presented on various levels. The immediate end is the chaotic and painful experience that came when the Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple. For Christians at least, this represented the end of the Old Testament era. Secondly, there are hints also of the final, cosmic end of our world with falling stars and dimming of the sun and moon. Finally, in both of these endings we see the elements of the end of our own earthly world in the event we call “death.”
While reflecting on what happened in the past and present, some questions come to our mind, "Does God still control the world’s events? Can we trust in earthly things? How would we stand up in the presence of such a catastrophe?" The devastation caused by the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was nothing in comparison to what nuclear warfare could do today. The attacks in New York some years ago, the war in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Syria, in Palestine, the typhoon in the Philippines, in Vietnam, the hurricane in Florida, etc. are they signs of the end of the world? How about persecution? In certain countries, being a Christian means you are a criminal. In others, persecution comes in different forms, from ridicule to total indifference. And yes, the Gospel reminds us, “Not a hair of your head will perish.”
We pray with St. Faustina, “Jesus, I trust in you.”