Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Advent begins next week. The readings for this final week of Ordinary Time focus our attention on the end times — whether it’s the end of history or of our own lives.
And here’s an interesting fact: the “psalm” we read every day this week isn’t actually a psalm at all! It’s the song that Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (better known as Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego) sang when they were thrown into the fiery furnace (see Daniel 3). We read it all week long because the Church wants to raise an important question for us: How do we react in times of trial?
Most of the readings this week tell us about trials in the history of God’s people. The responses we hear about are meant to inspire us and prepare us to face our own trials.
The first readings come from the Book of the prophet Daniel. All of them, in one way or another, are about challenges to God’s people to be faithful to the covenant under trying circumstances — even, sometimes, at the risk of their lives. And the readings convey a consistent message: Faithfulness will be rewarded, one way or another. It won’t necessarily be easy! God didn’t prevent Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego from being thrown into the fiery furnace. Instead, He protected them in the midst of it. He even gave them the peace and boldness to sing!
How about us: How do we handle anxious times? My observation is: We tend to whine about them or lash out against them. What would it be like to trust God so much that we could sing in the midst of our trials?
The Gospel readings have a similar theme: Jesus is preparing His disciples for the end times. He speaks to them about the impending destruction of the Temple and the hard times they will face. And then He says this funny thing: “They will put some of you to death … but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.”
How can both of those be true? On a natural level, it looks like a simple contradiction. But its meaning falls into place if we consider it in the light of the resurrection. God’s people — then and now — sometimes die for their faithfulness to God’s law. But we can count on the fact that their fidelity will be rewarded: They will be fully restored, body and soul, in the resurrection. The trials that happen in the Book of Daniel foreshadow that truth.
Daniel lived in anxious times. He was given great gifts and won some great victories of faith. But he never became complacent. He was always attentive to what God was asking next in a new situation. And he was always ready to step out in faith, entrusting himself to God’s protection.
We live in what could be anxious times! But, relying on Jesus, we need not be anxious. We simply need to trust in Him, be ready to step out in faith and let Him give us the boldness to sing in the midst of our trials.