November 28th 2nd Sunday of Advent (Dec 4th 2011)
A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
First Reading (Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11). This is the beginning of the second major division of the book of Isaiah, known as Deutero-(or Second) Isaiah. The reading is better understood when put in its original historical setting. Soon after 585 BC news of the destruction of Jerusalem and the cities of Judah reached the exiles in Babylon, among whom the prophet Ezekiel was active. After the destruction Ezekiel’s message of disaster turned to one of hope for the future. The exiles are represented as coming to him to hear a message from the Lord, whose words they ignore in practice. They regard the prophet as a singer of love songs, or a ballad singer. His promises or prophecies of a better or glorious future for God’s people in their homeland would have appeared as empty of content as a ballad. Babylon was still supreme, under the mighty Nebuchadnezzar who had destroyed Jerusalem. Matters were changing by 560 when Nebuchadnezzar’s dynasty was no more. In 556 Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon, came to the throne, and soon deserted Babylon. By 559 Cyrus king of Persia was advancing and would clearly soon set his eyes on Babylon. Then the new unnamed prophet, known as Second Isaiah, was called to his mission. In his heavenly vision he hears a voice calling on him to proclaim consolation to Jerusalem. God’s anger has now turned to love and hope. Her exile is declared at an end. A further heavenly voice proclaims that (figuratively) there will be a levelled highway for God’s triumphal return to Jerusalem. Zion, that is Jerusalem, is then addressed as a joyful messenger to bring these glad tidings to the (devastated) cities of Judah. (It is better understand as “joyful messenger Zion, Jerusalem” than “joyful messenger to Zion, to Jerusalem”.) Israel’s God is coming over the desert to Jerusalem in power, tenderly leading his scattered flock home.
The text is a great divine vision for the future, too great to be realized in that immediate presence, and hence through history inspiring later generations. King Cyrus, who conquered Babylon in 539 BC did permit the Jews to return home and rebuild the Temple (not Jerusalem or it walls), Not too many returned, but th Temple was rebuilt by 515, and the tiny population of Jerusalem and Judah did continue (with brief period of independence 164-63 BC) as subject nation to Persia, Greece and Rome.. Fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy would have been looked forward to. The Greek translation (Septuagint) punctuates Isa 40:3; “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare a way..’”, as “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way..’”, cited in this Greek form in the New Testament (for John the Baptist; Gospel reading). The Aramaic translation (Targum) renders the end of v. 9 (“Say to the cities of Judah:) Here is your God” as “The kingdom of your God is revealed”, a translation possibly current in Jesus’ days, and very near the New Testament message.
The beautiful Responsorial psalm (Ps 84) continues the message and expectation of the first reading – expectation of salvation through involvement of heaven and earth: “Faithfulness shall spring from the earth and justice look down from heaven”.
Second Reading (2 Peter 3:8-14). This letter under the name of Peter was most probably not written by St Peter himself, but some time after his death (about AD 64). It is in the form of a last will and testament in his name, concerning problems to arise when he had departed. It is “pseudonymous”, under an assumed name. Such Testaments under the assumed names of major figures in their tradition (Adam, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Solomon, Job, Three Patriarchs (Isaac, Jacob, Joseph], Twelve Patriarchs) were features of Jewish literature, and also of some early New Testament and Christian texts. 2 Peter is probably a rather later work, says AD70-90 or later. and addresses problems that had arisen in the (or some) Christian community at that date. As will be noted again below we see the author of this second Letter of Peter handle a pastoral problem of a crisis of faith arising from the perceived non-fulfilment of a prophecy apparently believed to have been made by Christ. The prophecy would have been believed to predict the return (coming) of Christ (and possibly the end of history) before the death of the generation to which he first addressed his words (see Mat 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27), this generation having passed away when 2 Peter was being composed: “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4). Fundamentally the author’s answer is to learn to live in faith with the Lord of eternity, for delays fulfilment in keeping with his overall plan of salvation.
The Gospel (Mark 1:1-8). This is the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, and probably represents the manner which early Christian preaching of the Gospel took, beginning not with the birth of Christ, or Infancy Narratives, but with the preaching of John the Baptist. All four Gospels begin the account of Jesus’ public life with the preaching of John the Baptist. John’s preaching and his baptising activity must have made a\ deep impression on the Jews of his time. His execution by Herod Antipas of Galilee (as in the Gospels). Both are described in some detail by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (in his work Jewish Antiquities, book 18) about AD 100. John’s activity is introduced by the words of Isaiah, to prepare the way for the Lord. It is a fulfilment of the prophecy as God sees fit, the Lord whose way is to be prepared in now Jesus of Nazareth, who will preach that the kingdom of God is near.
Reflection. The readings give ample occasion for reflection. In Isaiah we have a vision given to a particular people at a particular point in time, but in content quite independent of any occasion, a vision of a God with the love of a shepherd, leading his people gently on. The vision would get a new application with John the Baptist, forerunner of the One who was to come to introduce the kingdom of God. While two points in time are indicated in these readings (559 BC and AD 30) God himself, and Christ, are beyond time, Alpha and Omega, to them belong all ages. Realization, actualization, of the vision is linked with human response and the vicissitudes of history. Christ is the new vision of God, and the ideal vision of the Christ his Bride is clearly presented in the New Testament, in the Epistles to the Colossians and Ephesians in a special way. As Bride of Christ she is intended to be holy and immaculate. In actual fact she is on occasion far from this, with weaknesses and scandals. The readings help us to see difficulties and crises in perspective and to have these actually strengthen our faith, faith being the assurance (substance) of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).
B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day
Living in Patience and Perseverance with the Living God
In the second reading of today’s liturgy (Year B, 2 Peter 3:8-14) we see the author of the second Letter of Peter handle a pastoral problem of a crisis of faith arising from the perceived non-fulfilment of a prophecy apparently believed to have been made by Christ. The prophecy would have been believed to predict the return (coming) of Christ (and possibly the end of history) before the death of the generation to which he first addressed his words (see Mat 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27), this generation having passed away when 2 Peter was being composed: “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4). According to Luke (Lk 19:11), on Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem there were some who believed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately, which led to a parable by Jesus (Lk 19:12-27). Another relevant parable is that of the weeds among the wheat (Mat 13:24-30). Jesus professes ignorance of the exact date of the end time (Mat 24:34; Acts 1:7; it is the Father’s secret.
The difficulty with living with belief in a living God, delayed promises and the problem of evil is something that has been part of Jewish and Christian life down through the centuries. Strong faith and strong hope are required. A definition of the biblical references to faith and hope can help, followed by examples of how this worked with some major biblical figures (for example the prophets Habakkuk and Jeremiah).
1. Definition of Christian faith and hope
The opening words of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians will help, which speaks of a central characteristic of hope, that is steadfastness, patient endurance, perseverance (in Greek hypomone), due to the divine gifts of faith and hope, giving full conviction through the Holy Spirit.
NRSV 1 Thes 1:1-4
1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy. To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. 2 We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake.
The Epistles to the Hebrews reminds believers that through hope they are already linked to heaven, to the victory of Jesus who lives as intercessor for us (Heb 6:19-20): “19 We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek”.
Pope Benedict XVI recalls this biblical teaching in his encyclical (2007) Fide salvi facti sumus”:
1. “SPE SALVI facti sumus”—in hope we were saved, says Saint Paul to the Romans, and likewise to us (Rom 8:24). According to the Christian faith, “redemption”—salvation—is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey. Now the question immediately arises: what sort of hope could ever justify the statement that, on the basis of that hope and simply because it exists, we are redeemed? And what sort of certainty is involved here?
Faith is Hope
2. Before turning our attention to these timely questions, we must listen a little more closely to the Bible’s testimony on hope. “Hope”, in fact, is a key word in Biblical faith—so much so that in several passages the words “faith” and “hope” seem interchangeable. Thus the Letter to the Hebrews closely links the “fullness of faith” (10:22) to “the confession of our hope without wavering” (10:23). Likewise, when the First Letter of Peter exhorts Christians to be always ready to give an answer concerning the logos—the meaning and the reason—of their hope (cf. 3:15), “hope” is equivalent to “faith”.
2. Prophets wrestle with God
Israel’s true prophets had a keen perception of God’s holiness and justice and of the harsh realities of human existence for Israel, both by reason of foreign invasions and of their own people’s unfaithfulness to God’s covenant. Their message is best understood when viewed, in the first instance, against the background of their own day.
The prophet Habakkuk is generally regarded as exercising his ministry, at least its early part, about 505 BC when the Neo-Babylonian forces had overcome the older Assyrian empire and (under Nebuchadnezzar) were to become the dominant power in Palestine. Habakkuk sees injustice prevailing, and enters into dialogue with the God of Israel about it, asking why does God permit it.
The opening words of his prophetic collection are (NRSV Habakkuk 1:1-4):
The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw. 2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3 Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4 So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous— therefore judgment comes forth perverted.
He later enters his prophetic mode, his prophetic watchtower and rampart to dialogue with God. (NRSV Hab 2:1-4):
God’s Reply to the Prophet’s Complaint
21 will stand at my watch-post, and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
2 Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
3 For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.
4 Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.*
I hear, and I tremble within;
my lips quiver at the sound.
Rottenness enters into my bones,
and my steps tremble* beneath me.
I wait quietly for the day of calamity
to come upon the people who attack us.
(Trust and Joy in the Midst of Trouble)
Though the fig tree does not blossom,and no fruit is on the vines
though the produce of the olive fails
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold
and there is no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
and makes me tread upon the heights.*
Jeremiah prophesied a short time after Habakkuk. In his work he has left us texts, known as “Confessions”, in which he speaks of his complaints with, and against, God and the Lord’s reply to him. In the account of his vocation to be a prophet he is told to be prepared for trouble of various kinds, in his mission to make prophecies of coming disaster and to warn the people of punishments to come.
We have an example in God’s initial words to him Jer 1:17-19):
17 But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them. 18 And I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.
Jeremiah was faithful to his mission, but his prophesies of imminent disaster did not come through (immediately), which had the people mock him.
Like Habakkuk before him, he set out his complaint before God on the unexplained existence of evil. God replies without giving an explanation of the problem, telling Jeremiah to be prepared for further trouble (Jer 12:1-6):
1 You will be in the right, O Lord, when I lay charges against you; but let me put my case to you. Why does the way of the guilty prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive? 2 You plant them, and they take root; they grow and bring forth fruit; you are near in their mouths yet far from their hearts. 3 But you, O Lord, know me; You see me and test me—my heart is with you. Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and set them apart for the day of slaughter. … (God replies) 5 If you have raced with foot-runners and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you fall down, how will you fare in the thickets of the Jordan? 6 For even your kinsfolk and your own family, even they have dealt treacherously with you; they are in full cry after you; do not believe them, though they speak friendly words to you.
Jeremiah complains (Jer 17:14-17):
14 Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved; for you are my praise. 15 See how they say to me, “Where is the word of the Lord? Let it come!” 16 But I have not run away from being a shepherd in your service, nor have I desired the fatal day. You know what came from my lips; it was before your face. 17 Do not become a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster.
On another occasion (Jer 15:16-21) he is more candid, even accusing God seducing him, taking advantage of his innocence:
6 Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts. 17 I did not sit in the company of merrymakers, nor did I rejoice; under the weight of your hand I sat alone, for you had filled me with indignation. 18 Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail.
God does not weep on his prophet’s shoulder, but tells him repent (think rightly of God) and be prepared for worse!!
19 Therefore thus says the Lord: If you turn back, I will take you back, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall serve as my mouth. It is they who will turn to you, not you who will turn to them. 20 And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, says the Lord. 21 I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.
Similarly in Jer 20:7-9:
7 O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. 8 For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. 9 If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
3. Life with Christ, in trials, patience, joy
Christ tells his followers to be prepared for trials, misunderstandings and even persecutions. But “blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs are the kingdom of heaven” (Mat 5:10). The Holy Spirit is with them and brings them joy. Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden light, even in trials. Jesus was aware that his followers would have doubt and were in danger of being unfaithful. They were to be supported by fellow believers. Scandal, stumbling blocks, to those weak in faith or doubting (in the Gospel called “the little ones”; not children; there was then no infant baptism, not infants following Jesus) he considered serious (see Mat 8:6,10,14; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2). Paul has similar concern for those in danger of falling, or violating their consciences; he calls them “the weak” (Rom 14:–2; 15:1; 1 Cor 8:9,12; 2 Cor 11:29; 1 Thes 5:14).
“Life in Christ” for Christians was union through faith (and grace) with the crucified and risen saviour. Paul could say (Gal 2:19-20); “Through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who loves, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I Iive in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”. This is not just a mystical experience proper to Paul only. Life in Christ is union with him, with the sentiments and power of what the passion and resurrection stood for. It means ability to empathize with those who suffer, and to understand better the power of the resurrection in everyday Christian life and suffering. Paul puts it nicely in 2 Cor 1:3-5: “3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, 4 who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. 6 If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation. 8 We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, 11 as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many”.
By reason of the union with God through divine grace, Christian faith and hope are certain, not just human conviction ands aspiration. This is clearly seen in what has become the classical definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is the assurance (Greek hypostasis, Latin substantia) of things hoped for, the conviction (Greek elenchos; Latin: argumentum) of things unseen”. Whatever of the original import of the two Greek (and Latin) words, the text is to be understood as conveying more than human sentiments, e.g. human conviction. Pope Benedict treats of this text in detail in Spe Salvi, no. 7-8, stressing this point.
Some texts from the Encyclical “Spe Salvi” of Pope Benedict XVI, paragraphs 7-9
7. We must return once more to the New Testament. In the eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews (v. 1) we find a kind of definition of faith which closely links this virtue with hope. Ever since the Reformation there has been a dispute among exegetes over the central word of this phrase, but today a way towards a common interpretation seems to be opening up once more. For the time being I shall leave this central word untranslated. The sentence therefore reads as follows: “Faith is the hypostasis of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen”. For the Fathers and for the theologians of the Middle Ages, it was clear that the Greek word hypostasis was to be rendered in Latin with the term substantia. The Latin translation of the text produced at the time of the early Church therefore reads: Est autem fides sperandarum substantia rerum, argumentum non apparentium—faith is the “substance” of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen. Saint Thomas Aquinas, using the terminology of the philosophical tradition to which he belonged, explains it as follows: faith is a habitus, that is, a stable disposition of the spirit, through which eternal life takes root in us and reason is led to consent to what it does not see. The concept of “substance” is therefore modified in the sense that through faith, in a tentative way, or as we might say “in embryo”—and thus according to the “substance”—there are already present in us the things that are hoped for: the whole, true life. And precisely because the thing itself is already present, this presence of what is to come also creates certainty: this “thing” which must come is not yet visible in the external world (it does not “appear”), but because of the fact that, as an initial and dynamic reality, we carry it within us, a certain perception of it has even now come into existence. To Luther, who was not particularly fond of the Letter to the Hebrews, the concept of “substance”, in the context of his view of faith, meant nothing. For this reason he understood the term hypostasis/substance not in the objective sense (of a reality present within us), but in the subjective sense, as an expression of an interior attitude, and so, naturally, he also had to understand the term argumentum as a disposition of the subject. In the twentieth century this interpretation became prevalent—at least in Germany—in Catholic exegesis too, so that the ecumenical translation into German of the New Testament, approved by the Bishops, reads as follows: Glaube aber ist: Feststehen in dem, was man erhofft, Überzeugtsein von dem, was man nicht sieht (faith is: standing firm in what one hopes, being convinced of what one does not see). This in itself is not incorrect, but it is not the meaning of the text, because the Greek term used (elenchos) does not have the subjective sense of “conviction” but the objective sense of “proof”. Rightly, therefore, recent Protestant exegesis has arrived at a different interpretation: “Yet there can be no question but that this classical Protestant understanding is untenable”[5; reference to an essay on the subject in the “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament”)]. Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a “proof” of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a “not yet”. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future.
8. This explanation is further strengthened and related to daily life if we consider verse 34 of the tenth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews, which is linked by vocabulary and content to this definition of hope-filled faith and prepares the way for it. Here the author speaks to believers who have undergone the experience of persecution and he says to them: “you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property (hyparchonton—Vg. bonorum), since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession (hyparxin—Vg. substantiam) and an abiding one.” Hyparchonta refers to property, to what in earthly life constitutes the means of support, indeed the basis, the “substance” for life, what we depend upon. This “substance”, life’s normal source of security, has been taken away from Christians in the course of persecution. They have stood firm, though, because they considered this material substance to be of little account. They could abandon it because they had found a better “basis” for their existence—a basis that abides, that no one can take away. We must not overlook the link between these two types of “substance”, between means of support or material basis and the word of faith as the “basis”, the “substance” that endures. Faith gives life a new basis, a new foundation on which we can stand, one which relativizes the habitual foundation, the reliability of material income. A new freedom is created with regard to this habitual foundation of life, which only appears to be capable of providing support, although this is obviously not to deny its normal meaning. This new freedom, the awareness of the new “substance” which we have been given, is revealed not only in martyrdom, in which people resist the overbearing power of ideology and its political organs and, by their death, renew the world. Above all, it is seen in the great acts of renunciation, from the monks of ancient times to Saint Francis of Assisi and those of our contemporaries who enter modern religious Institutes and movements and leave everything for love of Christ, so as to bring to men and women the faith and love of Christ, and to help those who are suffering in body and spirit. In their case, the new “substance” has proved to be a genuine “substance”; from the hope of these people who have been touched by Christ, hope has arisen for others who were living in darkness and without hope. In their case, it has been demonstrated that this new life truly possesses and is “substance” that calls forth life for others. For us who contemplate these figures, their way of acting and living is de facto a “proof” that the things to come, the promise of Christ, are not only a reality that we await, but a real presence: he is truly the “philosopher” and the “shepherd” who shows us what life is and where it is to be found.
9. In order to understand more deeply this reflection on the two types of substance—hypostasis and hyparchonta—and on the two approaches to life expressed by these terms, we must continue with a brief consideration of two words pertinent to the discussion which can be found in the tenth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews. I refer to the words hypomone (10:36) and hypostole (10:39). Hypo- mone is normally translated as “patience”—perseverance, constancy. Knowing how to wait, while patiently enduring trials, is necessary for the believer to be able to “receive what is promised” (10:36). In the religious context of ancient Judaism, this word was used expressly for the expectation of God which was characteristic of Israel, for their persevering faithfulness to God on the basis of the certainty of the Covenant in a world which contradicts God. Thus the word indicates a lived hope, a life based on the certainty of hope. In the New Testament this expectation of God, this standing with God, takes on a new significance: in Christ, God has revealed himself. He has already communicated to us the “substance” of things to come, and thus the expectation of God acquires a new certainty.
It is the expectation of things to come from the perspective of a present that is already given. It is a looking-forward in Christ’s presence, with Christ who is present, to the perfecting of his Body, to his definitive coming. The word hypostole, on the other hand, means shrinking back through lack of courage to speak openly and frankly a truth that may be dangerous. Hiding through a spirit of fear leads to “destruction” (Heb 10:39). “God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control”—that, by contrast, is the beautiful way in which the Second Letter to Timothy (1:7) describes the fundamental attitude of the Christian
4. Ongoing expectation of new heavens and new earth and social involvement
As an ending to these reflections on “Living in Patience and Perseverance with the Living God” we may consider the Church’s own consideration of the matter in the Pastoral Constitution of Vatican II on “The Church in the Modern World” (Gaudium et Spes, paragraph 39))
39. We do not know the time for the consummation of the earth and of humanity, (cf. Acts 1:7) nor do we know how all things will be transformed. As deformed by sin, the shape of this world will pass away;(cf. 1 Cor 7:31) but we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth where justice will abide,(2 Cor 5:2; 2 Pet 3:13) and whose blessedness will answer and surpass all the longings for peace which spring up in the human heart.(cf. 1 Cor 2:9; Rev 21:4-5) Then, with death overcome, the sons of God will be raised up in Christ, and what was sown in weakness and corruption will be invested with incorruptibility.(cf. 1 Cor 15:42 and 53) Enduring with charity and its fruits,(cf. 1 Cor 13:8; 3:14) all that creation (cf. Rom 8:19-21) which God made on man’s account will be unchained from the bondage of vanity.
Therefore, while we are warned that it profits a man nothing if he gain the whole world and lose himself, (cf. Lk 9:25) the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age.
Hence, while earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ’s kingdom, to the extent that the former can contribute to the better ordering of human society, it is of vital concern to the Kingdom of God. (cf. Pius XI, Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno)
For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in His Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured, when Christ hands over to the Father: “a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace.”(Preface for Feast of Christ the King) On this earth that Kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns it will be brought into full flower.