The Lord says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” He means: “Nothing that is lasting in your world lasts for eternity without change; and everything that in me is perceived as passing away is kept firm, without passing away. My utterance, which passes away, expresses thoughts that endure without change.”
My friends, what we have heard is now clear. Daily the world is oppressed by new and growing evils. You see how few of you remain from a countless people; yet daily afflictions still oppress us, sudden disasters crush us, new and unforeseen misfortunes afflict us.
In youth the body is vigorous, the chest remains strong and healthy, the neck is straight, the arms muscular; in later years the body is bent, the neck scrawny and withered, the chest oppressed by difficult breathing, strength is failing, and speech is interrupted by wheezing. Weakness may not yet be present, but often in the case of the senses their healthy state is itself a malady. So too the world was strong in its early years, as in its youth: lusty in begetting offspring for the human race, green in its physical health, teeming with a wealth of resources. Now it is weighed down by its old age, and as troubles increase it is oppressed as if by the proximity of its demise.
Therefore, my friends, do not love what you see cannot long exist. Keep in mind the apostle’s precept, in which he counsels us “not to love the world or the things in the world, because if anyone loves the world the love of the Father is not in him.”
The day before yesterday, my friends, you heard that an old orchard was uprooted by a sudden hurricane, that homes were destroyed and churches knocked from their foundations. How many persons who were safe and unharmed in the evening, thinking of what they would do the next day, suddenly died that night, caught in a trap of destruction?
We must reflect that to bring these things about our unseen Judge caused the movement of a very slight breeze; he called a storm out of a single cloud and overthrew the earth, he struck the foundations of many buildings, causing them to fall.
What will that Judge do when he comes in person, when his anger is burning to punish sinners, if we cannot bear him when he strikes us with an insignificant cloud? What flesh will withstand the presence of his anger, if he moved the wind and overthrew the earth, stirred up the air and destroyed so many buildings?
Paul referred to this severity of the Judge who is to come and said: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Dearly beloved, keep that day before your eyes, and whatever you now believe to be burdensome will be light in comparison with it. The Lord says of this day through the prophet: “Yet once more and I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”
You see how he moved the air, as I said, and the earth did not withstand it. Who then will bear it when he moves the sky? What shall we call these terrors we see but heralds of the wrath to come? We must reflect that these troubles are as much unlike the final one as the herald’s role is unlike the judge’s power.
Give hard thought to that day, dearly beloved; amend your lives, change your habits, resist and overcome your evil temptations. The more you now anticipate his severity by fear, the more securely will you behold the coming of your eternal Judge.
St Gregory the Great