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Sixth Sunday of the Cross

The Sixth Sunday of the Cross

Basilica Hymn
May our first sins not be recalled against us
For the dwellings of the earth are filled with darkness and wickedness
They are the scorn of their neighbors
Between the apse and the altar weep the priests, the servants of the Lord, and they say…
Who does not grieve that our faults have multiplied and our iniquities increased, and that all men have drowned in the sleep of desires as in a sea? The truth has dimmed and injustice has shone in the thorn bush of our malice, and Justice has become zealous in calling us to account in the war, famine, carnage, and earthquakes that have happened. All the signs that the Lord pointed out have been fulfilled in our days, for by our sins the end of the world reaches us. Let us shed mournful tears as we say: O Lord, who created us in his grace, absolve our souls and have mercy on us!
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
We have gained an unending boast against death in the cross of Christ, and in his Resurrection from among the dead. For by his suffering, he uprooted the sentence upon us. In great, unending glory, then, we all cry out and say: Only-Begotten God the Word, who assumed our mortal body, have pity, O Lord, on your servants, who confess your cross!

Hurricanes, Sins and the End of the World

The calamities that have been striking the globe in past years have given rise to many discussions about the nature of such evils and their cause. Even more so have hurricanes Katrina and Wilma sparked questions in America – not because they are worse calamities than those that have struck Asia, but because they are, so to speak, in our own backyard. Indeed, it is a testimony to our self-centeredness that a single American being kidnapped or harmed hails many times more media attention than tens of thousands of non-Americans being killed. In any case, it is natural that tragedy cause reflection.

But the manner in which many so-called Christians have reflected upon these recent tragedies has been at best incautious and at worst directly contrary to the teaching of Christ. When Katrina, for example, struck and basically destroyed New Orleans, there was no shortage of preachers claiming that the hurricane was sent by God to punish the sins of the people of that city – these preachers merely pointed out the (admittedly) sinful behavior exhibited by many during Mardi Gras, and felt justified in explaining to the world why God did this. This is against the clear teaching of Christ. In the thirteenth chapter of Luke, Christ answers a nearly identical question: whether certain people were killed because of their sins. He answers very clearly: “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means!” Not only does Christ answer “no,” but it is an exclamative, loud “NO.” He himself brings up another case – even closer to the tragedies we have witnessed in these past months – of a “natural disaster:” “Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell upon them – do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means!”

This is not, however, the end of the story. Christ continues, after saying “no, these people were not killed because of their sins,” to point to us all: “but if you do not repent, worse will happen to you.” Christ’s teaching is this: it is not our business to speculate why someone else was harmed; the sins of other people are not our concern at all; our concern is our own sins and our own repentance. To take even a single step into someone else’s conscience, to spend even a moment judging another person’s heart, is to disobey Christ.

A second form of speculation that these frequent natural disasters have sparked is that concerning the end of the world. This is indeed a more valid approach to understanding these events (Christ in fact tells us to read “the signs of the times”), but, like anything, it can easily become twisted and anti-Christian if we are not careful. In the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, Christ discusses the signs that will accompany the end of time: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be famines and earthquakes from place to place. All these are the beginning of the labor pains… Many false prophets will arise and deceive many, and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold…And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Christ continues in this way to give details of the signs of the end times, but if we are to truly understand his Word we must ask what his purpose is in telling us such things: why should we be on the lookout? The answer is certainly not “to rub our special knowledge in people’s faces.” It is with a humble and contrite heart that we should be awaiting the coming of the Lord: “But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”

Christ not only asks us to be humble in the estimation of our own knowledge, but gives us an example of humility – he claims not to know the day and hour himself! The message is not to be arrogant with our supposed knowledge of the future, but to be weary and prepared: “Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

Our own Chaldean Church reflects on the end of the world, its signs, and its connection to sin on the seventh Sunday of the Fast of Elijah. It is humble and fearful, and appropriate for all of us to pray together:

Who does not grieve that our faults have multiplied and our iniquities increased, and that all men have drowned in the sleep of desires as in a sea? The truth has dimmed and injustice has shone in the thorn bush of our malice, and Justice has become zealous in calling us to account in the war, famine, carnage, and earthquakes that have happened. All the signs that the Lord pointed out have been fulfilled in our days, for by our sins the end of the world reaches us. Let us shed mournful tears as we say: O Lord, who created us in his grace, absolve our souls and have mercy on us!