Saint Gregory (540-603) abandoned a political career to become a monk. He was elected Pope of Rome in 590 and is considered one of the Great Fathers of the Church.
Our Lord and Redeemer, desiring to find us prepared, warns us of the evils that are to accompany the end of the world, so that He may keep us from the love of it. He makes known the disasters that will herald its approaching end, so that should we be unwilling to serve God in times of tranquility, we may, made fearful by these happenings, at least be anxious concerning the judgment now at hand.
For a little prior to this passage of the holy Gospel which you, my Brethren, have just heard, the Lord forewarned us, saying: Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be great earthquakes in divers places, and famines, and pestilences (Luke 21:10). Then having said certain other things in between, He adds this warning which you have just now heard: There will be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring (v. 25). From among all these things we now see that some have already come to pass; the others that now fill us with dread are to come in the future.
For we behold nation rising against nation, and their distress prevails upon the earth, more now in these our times than we have read of in history. You are aware how frequently we have heard from other parts of the world that earthquakes have devastated innumerable cities. Pestilences we suffer without easing. Signs in the sun and moon and stars we have not yet clearly beheld: but that these are not far off we gather from the alteration of the heavens.
Just as before Italy was given over to be smitten by the heathen sword, we beheld fiery hosts in the sky, and saw him* glittering there who was afterwards to shed the blood of humanity. Extraordinary confusion of the waves has not yet risen. But since much that was foretold has happened, we cannot doubt that the events which remain shall come in time, for the witness of what has been fulfilled is the pledge of that which is to follow.
We tell you these things, dearest Brethren, in order that your souls may awaken to an eagerness for security, and lest you become torpid in a security that is false, and become lax through ignorance of Christian truth, but rather that you may become solicitous, and that anxiety may strengthen you in doing good, reflecting on this which the voice of the Redeemer added: Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth; for the powers of heaven shall be shaken (v. 26).
Whom else does the Lord call by the name of Powers of heaven unless the Angels, the Archangels, the Thrones, Dominions, Principalities, and Powers, who at the coming of the Just Judge will then appear visibly to our eyes, to the end that they may sternly exact an account of that which the Invisible Lawgiver now patiently suffers? Whereto is added: And then they shall see the Son of Man coming in a cloud, with great power and glory; as though He were openly to say: They shall see Him come in power and majesty to Whom, present in lowliness, they turned a deaf ear, and so the more sharply will they then feel His severity, the more they now refuse to humble their hearts before His patience.
Since these words were directed at the reprobate, He then turns to speak words of comfort to the elect. For He says: When these things come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads, because your redemption draweth nigh. It is as if the Truth openly warns His Elect by saying: When the evils of this world mount up, when dread of the judgment is shown even by the trembling powers, lift up your heads, that is, be joyful in your hearts, because the world, of which you are not friends, is drawing to its end; the redemption you have been seeking is coming close. In Scripture the head is often used for the soul, because as the members are ruled by the head, so thoughts are governed by the soul. To lift up your heads therefore means to raise the heart to the joys of the heavenly fatherland.
They, therefore, who love God, are bidden to be glad, and to rejoice, because of the end of the world; since soon they will meet Him Whom they love, and that is passing away which they have never loved. Far be it then from any of the faithful who desire to see God that they should grieve over the stricken world, which we must know will end in these catastrophes. For it is written: Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God (James 4:4). Who therefore does not rejoice at the approaching end of the world, testifies that he is its friend, and by this he is revealed as an enemy of God. But let this be far from the faithful, far from the hearts of those who believe through their faith that there is another life, and who love it in very deed. Let them grieve over the ruin of the world who have planted the roots of their hearts deep in the love of it, who neither look for the life to come, nor are even aware that it is. But we who have learned the joys of our heavenly home must hasten to it as speedily as we may. We should desire to go there with all haste, and to arrive by the shortest way. And with what miseries does not the world urge us forward? What sorrow, what misfortune is there, that does not press upon us? What is this mortal life but a way? And what folly would it be, let you carefully consider, to be weary with the fatigue of the way, and yet not eager to finish the journey!
That the world is to be trodden on, and despised, Our Redeemer then teaches us, by a timely similitude: Behold the fig tree and all the trees: when they now shoot forth, ye see and know that summer is now at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand (vv. 29-31). This is as if He were openly to say: as from the fruit on the trees you know that summer is near, so from the ruin of the world you may know that the kingdom of God is likewise near. From which it may be truly gathered that the fruit of the world is ruin. To this end it arises, that it may fall. To this end it germinates, that whatever it has brought forth from seed will be consumed in disaster. But happily is the Kingdom of God compared to summer, because then the clouds of our sadness will pass away, and the days of our life shall be resplendent in the glory of the eternal Sun. /.../
The world is oppressed by new and ever-increasing miseries. How many survive of the innumerable multitude of men you may see, yet each day new scourges beset them, sudden disasters fall on them, new and unheard-of disasters arise. Just as the body in youth is vigorous, the heart strong and steady, the shoulders upright, and the lungs vigorous, but in old age the figure is no longer upright, the shrunken neck is bowed,the chest labors with frequent sighs, strength fails us, and the speaker is impeded by a faltering breath. Although feebleness is yet absent, yet infirmity in our bodily senses is now our normal state of health. So in its early years, the world flourished as in its pristine strength, vigorous to propagate the offspring of mankind, blooming in the health of its bodies, fat with the richness of life. Now it is falling into its own old age, and, as if near to death, is oppressed with growing miseries.
Do not then, my Brethren, love that which you know cannot endure. Keep before your minds the apostolic counsels wherein we are admonished: Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him (I John 2:15). The day before yesterday, Brethren, you heard that an ancient plantation was uprooted by a sudden storm, that houses were destroyed, churches razed to their foundations. How many were there, safe and well on the previous evening, who believed that in the morning they would fulfil some task, yet that very night were they of a sudden overtaken, caught in the trap of this disaster? But we must carefully keep in mind that in the doing of these things it is the Invisible Judge that moves the breath of the faintest breeze, that awakens the storm from even one small cloud, or razes the foundations of so many buildings. But what shall happen when the Judge shall visibly appear, and when His anger burns against the wicked, if we cannot now endure His wrath when He inflicts upon us the least tempest? Before the face of His wrath what flesh shall stand, if He it is that moves the wind, and shakes the earth, incites the storms, and lays low so many buildings? Paul reflecting on this severity of the Judge to come, says to us: It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31). The Psalmist gives voice to the same reflection: God, our God, shall come openly, and shall not keep silence: a fire shall be kindled before Him, and round about Him there shall be a very great temptest (Ps. 49:3). Tempest and fire shall accompany the severity of this justice, because the tempest shall search out those whom the fire will burn.
Beloved Brethren, keep that day before your eyes, and then whatsoever may seem burdensome will become light in comparison. Of that day is it said by the mouth of the Prophet: The great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and very speedy and exceeding swift; the sound of the day of the Lord is made bitter and harsh. A mighty day of wrath is that day, a day of affliction and distress, a day of desolation and destruction, a day of gloominess and darkness, a day of cloud and vapour, a day of the trumpet and cry... (Zeph. 1:14-16). Of this day the Lord has spoken by the mouth of the prophet Haggai: I shall shake the heaven and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land (Hag. 2:22).
Behold, as we have said, He moves the tempest, and the earth cannot endure it. What will it do when He moves the heavens? What can we say of the terrors we now see, except that they are but heralds of the wrath to come? And let us keep in mind that these present afflictions are as far below the last tribulations, as is the person of the herald below the majesty of the judge he precedes. Reflect with all your mind upon this day, my dearest Brethren. Remedy what is now defective in your present life. Amend your ways. Conquer evil temptations by standing firm against them. Repent with tears of the sins you have committed. For the more you make ready against the severity of His justice by serving Him in fear, the more serenely shall you behold the Coming of that Eternal Judge, Who with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, world without end. Amen.
Homilia I in Evangelia, inThe Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, translated and edited by M. F. Toal.
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