“Don’t drink the kool-aid!” Saint Paul tells us in the Epistle for today’s Mass. He warns the Thessalonians “not to be shaken out of [their] minds suddenly” by doomsday cultists claiming that the coming of the Lord is “at hand.”
Many of the early Christians, especially those who knew Our Lord personally, were anticipating His second coming to be within their own lifetimes. But as the years passed it became clearer that we might be waiting a long time to see the face of Jesus again.
So what Saint Paul seems to be warning us against is the sort of fanatical bunker-building (or the ancient equivalent) of the doomsday prophets who claim that Our Lord is coming back soon. Of course, we cannot know when He will come: He Himself said that “of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Mt 24:36).
Yet there is a sort of radicalness necessary in the Christian’s response to the fleetingness of this world. Simply put, it involves putting our treasure in heaven, in the next life, and not in this one.
One vision of the radicalness of Christian life was embodied by Saint Rose of Lima, whose feast the Church celebrates today. Rose, the first canonized saint of the New World, was born to an educated but poor family in Lima, Peru, in 1586. She was a very beautiful girl and her parents naturally sought a favorable marriage for her. But when she grew up she took a vow of virginity and joined the Dominican Third Order, deciding to live in a hut in her parents’ garden. There, while working to support her family, she lived a life of harsh penance and mortification. For example, she wore a thin circle of silver on her head which was studded with sharp points on the inside. She even went so far as to disfigure her face by rubbing it with hot peppers, so that she would not be an occasion of temptation to anyone.
Despite all this, she knew that this world and the opportunities it presented for physical penance would do her no good unless she completely stamped out all self-love, “which is the source of pride and seeks itself even in prayer and fasting” (Butler’s Lives of the Saints). But she defeated this vice by denying her own will through the steady practice of and growth in humility and obedience.
The disdain which Saint Rose showed for earthly honor, pleasure, and comfort was a response to Our Lord’s exhortation not to store up treasures on earth, where they would be in danger of corruption or theft. By forsaking the goods of this world she declared that her only treasure was in the world to come: and “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
We must remember that God calls only a few to copy Rose’s particularly painful way of storing up treasure in heaven. The way for ordinary Christians to imitate this great saint is instead to look “to the universal spirit of heroic sanctity behind” her intense ascetical practices (Butler’s). All saints, whether in the desert, the cloister, or the world, achieve sanctity by living every moment for God. We, too, can “consecrate to Him all our time, even our meals, our rest, our conversation and whatever else we do” (Butler’s), so that all our works will be as full of intense love for God as were Rose’s heroic gestures. Let us live each moment with radical love, and we will be storing up our treasure in heaven.
And so radicalness of life is not just for those bunker-builders who think that “the day of the Lord is at hand.” We are all waiting, in hopeful expectation, for the coming of Christ, though we know neither the day nor the hour. We live this hope by counting as more important the treasures of heaven than those of earth, and that’s the lesson to be drawn from the life of Saint Rose of Lima—more even than her impressive mortifications.
Saint Paul, again, after warning against false fanaticism, reminds us that we are still called “to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ”—the glory of heaven where we will have complete and never-ending bliss. The Christian’s radical preparation for the end of time is to store up treasure in heaven by living each moment with intense love.
Instead of drinking the kool-aid, let’s drink from the well of living water. Come, Lord Jesus!
Image: Lawrence Lew, OP, St Rose of Lima (used with permission)