Just over two months ago, on October 7, the nation of Israel was surprised by a number of deadly, vicious, and unjustified terror attacks launched from the Palestinian city of Gaza; many Israeli civilians—innocent men, women, and children—were brutally tortured, murdered, or captured and taken away as hostages. An Israeli named Amir, his wife Miri, and their two little girls, ages three and one, lived in Israel near Gaza in a small kibbutz—a Jewish community or village in which all the inhabitants work closely together. Even though Israel was technically at peace, it was still required by law that every single house in the kibbutz have a safe room, built out of concrete and steel, just in case. Amir and Miri used their home’s safe room as the girls’ bedroom, and when the attack began, they immediately locked themselves inside, behind a concealed entrance.
Just before the cell phone towers went down, Amir was able to call his father, a retired Israeli armed forces general up in Tel Aviv, and he promised to come and rescue them. Israeli children are trained from an early age how to hide in complete silence when danger threatens, and so the family huddled together without making a sound. Outside they could hear the terrorists shooting guns in the air and boasting about what they’d do to any more victims they discovered. Amir, who spoke Arabic, silently thanked God his wife Miri wasn’t able to understand the terrible things being said. After nine long hours of fear and uncertainty, they were finally rescued by Amir’s dad and taken to safety. A few weeks later, Amir—himself an author and journalist—was interviewed on the TV show Sixty Minutes, and movingly described what he and his family had endured. This true story is a timely and vivid illustration of the importance of the message Jesus proclaims in the Gospel: be watchful, alert, and prepared for whatever may come. Our experience of eternity might begin at any moment, for tomorrow is guaranteed to no one. For this reason, today is the day for us to ready ourselves to meet the Lord. True wisdom lies in acknowledging this truth, and then acting upon it.
If we knew nothing of God or of His plan for humanity and the world, it wouldn’t be our fault if future events caught us off guard—but as St. Paul (1 Cor 1:3-9) says, followers of Jesus are given grace and knowledge and are lacking in no spiritual gift while awaiting the revelation of Jesus our Savior. If we are like clay in the hands of a potter—the image of humble submission to God used by the prophet Isaiah (63:16-17, 19; 64:2-7)—we will be prepared by the wisdom of God to face whatever challenges may await us. Our Heavenly Father will protect us, but we must do our part by taking our spiritual duties seriously. Jesus states that we need to be like faithful servants awaiting their master’s return. Not knowing exactly when that will be, we must remain in a state of grace, while putting God at the center of our lives and continually striving to know and do His will. This is the only way to be completely prepared to meet Our Lord, whether this occurs through death or the end of the world.
The modern nation of Israel is renowned for its first-rate military forces and its highly effective intelligence gathering capabilities—so the obvious question is this: how were the Israelis so disastrously caught off guard by the October 7 terror attacks, especially as they occurred on the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when another surprise attack was launched against them? Experts will likely study and debate this question for years to come; my theory or explanation is this. Israel, like most Western nations today, is increasingly secular or non-religious—and when a nation no longer acknowledges God’s authority, He withdraws His Divine protection from it. Sometimes the hard lessons of suffering and failure are the only way a sinful society can be brought to recognize its need for God. No country, no matter how wealthy, militarily powerful, or technologically advanced, can ultimately survive, let alone prosper, if it rebels against the Lord. We’ve experienced this truth here in the United States. Following the 9-11 terror attacks in 2001, Rabbi Jonathan Cahn, a Messianic Jew—that is, a Jew who acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah—wrote a famous book called The Harbinger, which examined the parallels between ancient Israel and America. Both nations were specifically consecrated to God, and thus the recipients of divine favor and blessings not given to other nations. However, both Israel and America were also held to a higher standard—which meant that if and when they violated the covenant by turning away from God, His protection would be withdrawn, resulting in national tragedy.
What does this mean for us today? As Catholics, we have a uniquely privileged knowledge of and relationship with the Lord. Only our Church can rightly claim to have been directly founded by Jesus Himself 2000 years ago; the history of every other Christian religion began much later than Catholicism. Only our Church has the fullness of divine revelation, and the God-given authority to teach definitively on faith and morals, especially in regard to the truths necessary for salvation. No other religion can compare to us in terms of a wealth of sacraments, sacramentals, devotions, and other helps toward personal spiritual growth. All this means that we as Catholics will be held to a higher standard than anyone else—and it’s up to us to ensure we are truly ready for judgment, whenever it may come.
Our Lord’s message in the Gospel is given in a spirit of urgency, and we would be very wise to hear and respond to it in this same spirit. This means remaining in a state of grace, receiving the sacraments regularly, obeying the Ten Commandments, living in the spirit of the Beatitudes, forgiving others so that we may be forgiven, actively trying to know and do God’s will for us, and loving the Lord with all our hearts and loving our neighbor as ourselves. If we honestly try to live out our Catholic faith in such a way, we will never be caught unprepared for death, nor be overwhelmed by the challenges and difficulties of life. Times of war, terrorism, political instability, financial uncertainty, and societal decline can quite naturally be frightening and unsettling, but God is always in control of world events—and as long as we also allow Him to be in control of our lives, we have nothing to fear, and will always be ready for whatever may come.