Ave Maria! “There fell in
one day three and twenty thousand”
“There fell in one day three and twenty thousand”
It helps to recognize that in the Epistle Saint Paul is referring to events of the Old Testament in which God’s chosen people were unfaithful to Him during the Exodus. The twenty-three thousand may refer to those who were slain for worshipping the golden calf. Or possibly to a similar number who got involved with the women of the Madianites in Moab and consequently became initiated into the worship of the false god Beelphegor.  Those that “perished by the serpents” were those that blamed Moses for the lack of variety in the food God was providing on the journey—the murmured about Moses and tempted God by demanding that He do better!
Saint Paul wrote from Ephesus, probably in AD 57, so he was too early to have witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem which Our Lord predicted in today’s Gospel. That came in AD 70 when the Romans came quite close to utterly destroying the city—in many places they left literally not “a stone upon a stone.”
In all of these cases, people were destroyed for infidelity to God—they refused to see “the things that are to [their] peace.” God liberated them from the Egyptians and they responded by worshipping false Gods. God sent His only Son in order that they might be redeemed, and they responded by crucifying Him. They ignored “the time of their visitation” by Moses, and the Prophets, and even by the Son of God Himself. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee….”
With the benefit of hindsight we look back on all these things and we are inclined to look down on the “chosen people.” We are inclined to ask, “why would anyone worship a golden calf”? “Why would anyone sacrifice their children to Beelphegor”? “Why would anyone put to death the man who cured the sick, raised the dead, and multiplied loaves of bread in the desert”? But, perhaps, we modern people are not radically different, and not measurably better than the “chosen people” of biblical times.
Our Lord sent His disciples out with the mission of “teaching all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” In other words “the time of our visitation” is now as the priests and bishops of the Church preach the Gospel, and call for the repentance sinners, and the doing of penance to satisfy the justice of God.
All too many refuse to believe the Gospel at all—they are blinded by the transient pleasures of the world and refuse to listen to God’s ministers. More and more, in modern times, we see them attempting to build a sort of “anti-Church,” in which the righteous are held to be guilty, and in which sin is held to be a positive good, and even a right. Civil society is called upon to punish those who speak against evil, and to be sure that everyone has the means to sin!
Christians make the mistake of supporting this coercive use of civil society by themselves ling up to take its benefits. Bishops and priests make the mistake of thinking that they can make use of the coercion of civil society to finance their works of “charity” without recognizing that they are supporting the same apparatus of coercion that guarantees the sinners’ “right to sin.” They ignore Our Lord’s admonition about the impossibility of serving both God and the world.
Even many of those who believe in the Gospel and call themselves Christians, make the mistake of thinking that they can put off the actual practice of the Faith until sometime in the future. They live a life without prayer and the Sacraments based on the mistaken notion that they can put these things off until later in life. They are, of course, wrong! It is the height of presumption to live a life ignoring God with the expectation of repentance and forgiveness in the last few days or even hours of life. Human life is too uncertain to make plans like that. Sickness and accident come when they are least expected—and they may come at any age—the young are by no means exempt.
Sins become bad habits, and habits are difficult to break. They become more difficult to break, the longer we practice them. A bad habit practiced for fifty or sixty years may become impossible to break until a final illness makes it impossible to sin any longer. Yet the person so presumptuous as to ignore God for a lifetime may also hold the unsupported presumption that a priest will free them from their sins on their deathbed. Indeed, that is the height of presumption.
Death can come in an instant, far from any sort of help. But even in the civilized comfort of a hospital bed there is no guarantee of receiving the last Sacraments. There are fewer priests than there were fifty years ago. And many of them lack zeal for the salvation of souls. But even during the very best days of the Church—when the Faith was strong and nearly universal—there were people who died without the Sacraments.
The only way to be sure of salvation is to live continuously in God’s graces. That means breaking those bad habits as quickly as possible. It means living a life directed towards God, nourished by prayer and the Sacraments. It means having “true contrition and a firm purpose of amendment” for those sins which may come from unexpected temptations—so that even if there is no opportunity to receive the last Sacraments, God will know that we yearned for Him, even though we were weak. Again, all of these things are rooted in a life of prayer and frequent Communion with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
This is the time of our “visitation.” It is the time to know “the things that are for our peace.” Jesus Christ is our prophet, and we must know His word, and keep it to the best of our abilities!