And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand. (Luke 21:27-28)
I know a Nigerian priest. He has said that in Nigeria, how you say something is just as important as what you say. Once he recounted a story of someone who had confronted him unjustly. He said, “First I stepped back. Then I stepped forward. Then I said what I had to say.”
Think about the meaning of his actions. First he was literally taken aback by what the other person said. Stepping back is what you do to avoid a blow. It could be seen as cowardly, but what he did next was full of power and courage. He stepped forward and spoke a word in the strength of truth. He refused to back down from the one who was attacking him. He did not lose ground. He did not lose face. Body language—our posture says so much.
The above Scripture passage contains an example of the Christian’s ideal body language: Stand erect and raise your heads… Looking more closely at the verse, notice that our Lord does not say to stand erect and raise your heads only after the Son of Man comes, but to do so when the signs preceding his coming are beginning to happen. For, once the Son of Man comes, there will no longer be any need for hope, since the thing hoped for will have come. Hope belongs to the era of faith in things not seen. And this hope does not depend on circumstances, but on the overriding joy of knowing that the God of infinite power and love dwells within us.
Origen, who died in the third century, has left a teaching that is as pertinent today as ever:
“So if we want God to reign within us, on no account may sin rule in our mortal body but let us mortify our earthly bodies and let us be made fruitful by the Spirit. Then we will be a spiritual garden of Eden for God to walk in. God will rule in us with Christ who will be seated in us on the right hand of God — God, the spiritual power that we pray to receive — until he makes his enemies (who are within us) into his footstool and pours out on us all authority, all power, all strength.”
There is much to ponder in this piece, notably the role of penance in the defeat of evil. It is worth noting also that he identifies the enemies of God as the forces within our own hearts. It is sin we must fear more than any earthly calamity. For sin alone can take away our hope of redemption.
By standing erect and raising our heads in spite of our earthly situation we, in the words of Saint John Paul II, become witnesses to hope. The time to be a true witness to hope is when hope is hard work, as at Calvary. Who were the witnesses to hope at Calvary? The Blessed Mother, St. John, Mary Magdalene, and a few others, faithful children of Abraham, who “against hope, believed in hope.” (Rom 4:18)
Let us pray with renewed hope and offer to God fervent gratitude for the grace of redemption. May our penances, united to the cross of Christ, be an instrument of salvation for ourselves and for all the poor sinners of the world, until he makes all his enemies into his footstool.