You've probably heard me talk about Stuart McLean, and his CBC radio program, The Vinyl Café. The characters on the Vinyl Café, Dave and Morley, and their two kids Stephanie and Sam, are almost real to me, and their adventures make me laugh and sometimes cry. For me, they're as Canadian as maple syrup and Tim Hortons.
I've got tickets to see Stuart McLean in a couple of weeks, and I'm getting ready by listening to some Vinyl Café stores on CD. One of them tells how 11 year-old Sam managed to predict a couple of future events. Astonished by what were in fact nothing more than coincidences, Sam tells his best friend Murphy "I think I'm psycho."
(Being a good pal, Murphy's too polite to say "I think you mean psychic.")
In any case, the more Sam convinces himself of his power to predict the future, the more upset he becomes, until finally he goes to a storefront fortune-teller, Madam Nina, and confides his troubles. Madam Nina, who despite her exotic name wears jeans and a baseball cap, treats Sam kindly—most people in Stuart McLean's world treat one another kindly—and tells him not to worry.
"Things come out right in the end," Madam Nina explains.
But even for an eleven-year, at least one as smart as Sam, that answer wasn't enough.
"But what if things don't come out right in the end," Sam presses Madam Nina.
"Then it isn't the end," she replies.
And there, direct from your radio, is a fine homily on today's Gospel, and some pretty good advice besides.
Many of us think that our Christian faith should protect us from misfortune. We can come to see the main purpose of prayer as warding off disease and disaster; we pray that we, and especially our loved ones, will be spared trials and troubles—and even our prayer itself seems to bring out our fears.
Today's Gospel tells us that faith is not a guarantee against tribulations. Did the good people of London not pray during the Blitz? Did the people of Haiti fail to pray before the devastating earthquake? Are they failing to ward off cholera by more prayer?
Jesus predicts wars, earthquakes, and plagues. Even worse, he predicts the persecution and martyrdom of his closest followers. So where, exactly, do we get the idea that "things will come out right in the end"? Certainly not from today's Gospel.
Unless, of course, we believe that this isn't the end. That our personal pains, world-wide conflicts, and even natural disasters are all evils that Christ the Redeemer will overcome for us if we endure in faith and hope.
And of course we don't need to rely on the authority of Madam Nina. St. Paul tells us "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied."
Of course we're pitiable creatures if Christ has given us hope only for this earthly life—because we know how it ends. None of us escapes death, and to escape grief you must die before anyone you love, which seems a pretty poor solution to the problem. Either Christian hope extends beyond the grave, or it's a hope not worth having.
At this point I have to say that it's natural to worry about earthly things. If there are bombs overhead, or tremors underneath, they activate natural impulses of anxiety and fear. Naturally, you'll worry more about your husband's heart than his soul when he's getting an angiogram.
But the natural needs to be met by the supernatural. When wars break out, when disaster strikes, or when persecution begins, it's the cue for a Christian to take heart—to hear the words of Jesus, to repeat them in hope. "Do not be terrified… By your endurance you will gain your souls."
Dark days, whether they happen today, tomorrow, or at the end of the world, are not signs that God has forgotten us; they are moments to remember that God has forgiven us. They're not exceptions to the rule, Jesus tells us, they are the rule: "these things must take place."
They must take place so that Christ's victory can be revealed—revealed in our lives, and ultimately in His return in glory.
We don't need a storefront psychic to tell us that if things don't come out right in the end, then it's not the end. Christ our King tells us that and more: Not a hair on our heads will perish—for those who revere His name, the sun of righteousness will rise from even the deepest darkness, healing, restoring, and redeeming.