Sybil 2008

Gospel text

Luke 21: 25-36

25 There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth will be seen the anguish of nations confused by the roaring and unleashing of the sea, 26 while men will be afraid of what may to arrive to the whole world, because the forces of the cosmos will be upset. 27 At that moment, one will see the new Adam manifest mysteriously with strength and the extraordinary quality of his being. 28 When these events begin to happen, regain your confidence and straighten your head, because your deliverance is near ... 34 Stay on your guard to prevent your hearts from being overwhelmed by corruption, drunkenness, and everyday worries, and that this event will strike you unexpectedly, 35 like a fishing net. For it will reach out the inhabitants of all the surface of the earth. 36 Remain vigilant in prayer so that you have the strength to go through what is to happen, and stand upright before the new Adam.

How are we going to bounce back after a disaster?

Gospel commentary - Homily

The choice to live

One day, we felt safe about the future. Sagacious, we had entrusted our assets to a broker who promised us a good return. We were all the more confident that, at the beginning, revenues were increasing. And this broker was considerate, warm, courteous. But now the secret is revealed. The broker is a crook. We lost everything. This is the end of the world for us, our universe is falling apart, we are terrified of the future. There is something dead in us.

There are various ways to describe adversity, events that break our hearts: we will talk about our world collapsing, a kind of tsunami, a slap in the face, being knocked out. Today's Gospel uses the image of the cosmos that is shaken, so that the sun, the stars and the moon are no longer the same; this image is widely used in Jewish apocalyptic stories. Luke adds the image of the unleashed sea, an image no doubt familiar to the Greek milieu, for example the maritime city of Corinth, where his Gospel may have been written. Regardless of the image, we are referred here to painful events or situations that we can experience sooner or later, where we feel that everything that was familiar, expensive, important or comforting collapses, disappears.

But the paradox of the Gospel is to affirm that it is at this moment, when we have the impression of being half dead, that we can experience a mystery of life. Jesus uses the familiar image of the Jewish apocalypse, that of the son of man manifested in a cloud. This son of man represents the new and liberated humanity. So I prefer to use the expression "new Adam" or "new man" to describe this reality. He comes on a cloud, that is, this presence is shrouded in mystery. Who is this new man? For the Christian, it is of course Jesus risen. But it's more than that. It is also ourselves, our own person, to the extent that we have allowed the same stream of life to dwell in us. This is the huge paradox: as our world collapses and we feel like we are dead, we can experience the mysterious experience of a liberating life deep within us.

Of course, the destiny of Jesus reflects this paradox. But many others have taken the same route without perhaps being aware of it. This is the case, I believe, of Etty Hillesum, the Jewish woman of the Netherlands, who died in November 1943 in the Auschwitz extermination camp. She, who was enjoying life with great freedom and with whom literary talents were seen, experienced her world gradually collapsing with the German invasion: Jews were excluded from administrative posts and the public service, then universities; their neighborhood is turned into a ghetto; Deportations begin; Jews are banned from public markets and all recreational areas such as parks, restaurants and cafes; Jews no longer have the right to be employers; they will eventually have all their property seized before being sent to extermination camps. What does Etty do during this period? She makes the discovery of an extraordinary life that dwells in the depths of her heart, a life that always makes her stronger, a life that brings her to others with love, a life that makes her exclaim, "How life is beautiful!" While in the Westerbork refugee camp, where many are shouting their hatred for their fate, she marvels at the reflection of the rainbow in a puddle after the rain. Is she schizophrenic? No, she is inhabited by this mystery of life that the Gospel calls "Son of Man", which can be translated by new life or newness. How did she get there?

It is impossible to summarize in one sentence the hundreds of pages of Etty's diary. "We must liberate ourselves internally from everything," she says, "from each of our crystallized impressions, from each slogan, from each of our attachments ... we must dare to take the risk of making the great leap into the cosmos and then, then life becomes infinitely rich and fruitful, even in the deepest suffering". These crystallized impressions can be wounds of the past, remorse that haunts us, hatred caused by intense suffering, the weight of a boring life. But the key here is: "If only you were ready to participate in every minute of this life without resisting or shutting yourself up. If only you realized that the place where you are and what you do make no difference if you have God in you ..."

In a word, we have not chosen these hard times that we are facing, we have not chosen the events that leave us half dead. Nevertheless a decision is left to us: do we want to choose to live despite everything? "There are times," writes Etty, "where I think I must resign myself or succumb, but always that feeling of responsibility comes back to me: to really keep alive the life that is in me". Choosing to maintain life in oneself is a step into the movement of the incarnation we celebrate at Christmas. Are we ready for this choice?


-André Gilbert, Gatineau, August 2009