"Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" (Mt.11:3). John the Baptist, from the dungeon in which he has been incarcerated by Herod, expresses his anxieties about the identity of Jesus. Is He the promised Messiah or not? All the saints, even John the Baptist, must endure temptation, passing through dark nights on their way to Heaven. If he is going to die in prison after pointing to Jesus as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world, he wants some affirmation of this from Jesus Himself.
The Son of God sends a message of reassurance to His cousin: "Go and report to John what you have heard and seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not scandalized in Me" (Mt.11:4-6).
John would die a martyr, but many would be "scandalized" in Jesus, not accepting Him as the Messiah and denying His divinity. He would be mocked, scourged and blasphemed, before dying the cruel death of crucifixion. But the greatest proof of His divinity would be His glorious Resurrection: "I am the First and the Last, and he who lives; I was dead, and behold, I am living forevermore…" (Apoc.1:17,18).
Jesus wants us to live forever too. "In My Father's house there are many mansions," Jesus said. But one must find the straight and narrow way, because the majority of mankind have chosen the broad way that leads only to destruction. And "Unless you become as little children" -innocent of sin, simple and trusting, "you cannot enter into the kingdom of Heaven." We should add that St. Paul says that we must work out our salvation "in fear and trembling."
Some say this life is all there is, so enjoy it while you can: "Eat, drink, and be merry." Vladimir Lenin said that "religion is the opiate of the people," a way to keep them poor and under control by promising them Heaven, or, "pie in the sky bye and bye." Since this world is all there is, we must work towards an earthly paradise, a classless society in which everyone in the world will be equal and have an equal share in the goods of the earth. Of course, under the yoke of Communism the poor people find out, like the beasts of Animal Farm, that "some are more equal than others."
Heaven is also promised in the Koran - a paradise of sensual delights. This is especially the destiny of those Muslims who become so-called "martyrs" in their suicide missions, by killing the enemies of Islam, especially Christians and Jews.
But the Heaven we believe in and look forward to is the one revealed to us by Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God. And it is nearer than we may suspect. Jesus once said, "The kingdom of God is in your midst." Pope St. Gregory the Great said, "The Kingdom of Heaven is the assembly of the just."
Then we, assembled here for Holy Mass, are already participating in the Kingdom of Heaven. We have the testimony of St. John the Evangelist, from the book of the Apocalypse, the last book in the Bible, called Revelation by those who wish to change things. Those , concerning the preparation of the Church so that it might become at last "holy and immaculate," a worthy Bride for her Heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. A Heavenly Mass seems to be in progress. There are seven golden candlesticks (the number actually used at a pontifical Mass). The Lamb is seen standing on an altar, as though slain. And the holy angels "do not rest day and night, saying, 'Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God almighty, who was, and who is, and who is coming. The seraphim and the elders fall down before the Lamb, "having each a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints." "And every creature that is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth," John says, breaks out in words of praise: "To Him Who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb, blessing and honor and glory and dominion, forever and ever."
Fr. Faber called the traditional Latin Mass "the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven," but it is more than that. It is our actual participation in the Heavenly Liturgy of praise and worship that is offered to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, now going on, which is described by St. John in the Apocalypse. The Mass is Heaven on earth!
Then why are we enduring all these trials? Well, the Apocalypse goes on to describe how the Bride of Christ is prepared for her marriage to her Heavenly Spouse - through trials and sufferings - purifications, as gold is tried in the fire.
Should we be surprised that the Church is enduring the greatest trials since her beginning? Today the Church suffers from the sins of her members, a terrible interior suffering which has brought the Church down even to the point of death, while her enemies rejoice. But it is also caused by enemies who have infiltrated her ranks and usurped even her highest offices - with the result that the faithful are led into darkness and confusion.
This is to be expected. Nothing but the most severe trials will be enough to prepare the spotless Bride of Christ to meet her Spouse. Jesus Himself endured countless sufferings and persecutions throughout His life, but in the end He made the supreme sacrifice, and endured the crucifixion and death upon the Cross. Only then came the Resurrection.
The Church is now being called to imitate her Divine Spouse - to endure the most extreme persecutions, and even crucifixion. "I saw under the altar," says St. John in the Apocalypse, "the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God, and for the witness that they bore…And they were told to rest a while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who are to be slain, even as they had been, should be complete." (Apocalypse 6: 9,11) Then will come the glorious Resurrection of the Church.
Our sure hope is in Jesus Christ: "'There shall be the root of Jesse, and He Who shall arise to rule the Gentiles… in Him the Gentiles shall hope.' Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope and in the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15: 12).