As we move into the period of preparing for Great Lent, we hear some rather disturbing Gospel readings, reminding us that all is not right in our world. We may struggle to relate to passages such as these, which warn of coming destruction and unspeakable horrors. Yet there are many people in our world today who have lost everything and have no safe place to call home. And the reality is that we are all vulnerable to the destructive impulses lurking just beneath the surface of our modern civilisation.
This Gospel reading reminds us that there is indeed a battle going on in our world, and that we cannot escape it. Our modern western world encourages us to discount the reality of evil and of the devil as belonging to a superstitious past. Yet, the reality of evil remains powerful, and ignoring it does not make it go away.
In the Gospels, Jesus instructs us to remain vigilant and awake as we await His return (e.g. Matthew 25:1-13) and the Fathers of the Church saw this watchfulness – or Nepsis – as at the heart of the spiritual life. It involves remaining attentive, guarding our thoughts and our heart, and not allowing the pleasures of life to lull us into forgetting what is really going. Instead, it involves turning to Jesus Christ and placing our trust in Him. It is only such watchfulness that will enable us to meet whatever tribulations we encounter. As we will sing in Holy Week:
Behold, the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night, and blessed is that servant whom he finds watching; but unworthy is the one whom he finds slothful. Take care then, my soul, not to be overcome with sleep, lest you be given up to death, and be shut out of the kingdom; but rouse yourself and cry: Holy, holy, holy are you, O God; through the Mother of God, have mercy on us.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 13:14-23:
The Lord said to his disciples, “When you see the desolating sacrilege spoken of by Daniel the prophet, set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; let him who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything away; and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his mantle. And alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days! Pray that it may not happen in winter. For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not shortened the days, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. And then if any one says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. False Christs and false prophets will arise and show signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But take heed; I have told you all things beforehand.”