Friday, October 26, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 52, “The Destruction of Jerusalem and the End of the World”

Dear friend,

Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem in the days before his own destruction. Forty years later, his prophecy was fulfilled. What should we make of that, my friend? Do we even stop to wonder?

The destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD was “no mere political catastrophe,” according to Romano Guardini. “Jesus…speaks of the event as a punishment of the city that has rejected the Messiah.”

Now we see the problem. Pointing in any way at the destruction of the Temple is to point a finger at the folks who built the Temple and “rejected the Messiah,” the Jews. What sense can we make of this? Or is it best to just set it aside?

Guardini courageously sets nothing aside. First, he insists that in order to understand the destruction of the Temple, we must first understand that the Jewish people are unique in history. Their faith did not evolve out of the conditions of their existence, as other faiths have. It was not determined by their polytheistic neighbors or by rites of the Canaanites, whose lands they overtook.

The faith of the Jews, the faith of the Old Covenant, was the result of “the hand of the Lord in history. . . . There in all the richness and radiance of full maturity stands the ripe ear—figures whose greatness and purity are never to be surpassed in later Old Testamental history: Abraham and Moses. What takes place in them is no ‘religious experience’ emerging from the concentrated spiritual characteristics of their race, but God’s summons to the Jewish people.” No, Abraham and Moses appear suddenly before us, lighthouses in history standing far above the landscape.

The history of Israel, Guardini goes on, is the result of a constant struggle in the Jewish people between belief and disbelief: a falling away and a coming back to God—“of its submission to his will or stubborn insistence on its own.

“When the Messiah, towards whom its whole history has been directed, finally arrives, Israel fails to understand the hour of its ultimate visitation ‘because thou hast not known the time’ of salvation or ‘the things that are for thy peace,’ and achieves instead the fullness of disobedience. Punishment for this is the downfall of the city.”

Of course, the history of the Jewish people does not end in 70 AD. That’s when the diaspora begins “with all the misfortune it brings upon [Israel] and others.” The misfortune of “others”? How about the downfall of the world itself? “Men have attempted to understand the end of the world scientifically,” Guardini writes. I’ll interject a bit of Robert Frost to say that we have tried to understand it poetically too:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

The world will not end either by global warming or by human freezing, according to Guardini: “The end of the world . . . is a judgment . . . God’s final word to sin . . . God hates sin. . . .

“When nothing lives on earth to justify it in God’s holy sight, judgment will fall. . . . When not even that minimum number of the just exists in the cities to save them they will be lost. . . . It is senseless to ask how it will occur; it is an event from ‘beyond’ and accordingly incomprehensible.”

For the man convinced that life is meaningless, that there is nothing worth living for beyond self-pleasure, I would say, Try living so as to be one of that “minimum number of the just.” Not because you even believe it. Because it’s an interesting working hypothesis. I think that’s what the Catholic Church means when it says become a saint yourself, what St. Josémaria means by holiness.

It makes life worth living. And you will have left far behind any questions of why the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. We are all Jews.

Pax Christi,
WB

This series of posts continues here with chapter 53.

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