Eternity has already begun

We are at the end of the liturgical Year – next week we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King the last Sunday of the year.

Throughout the whole year we have walked with Holy Mother Church through God’s revelation of Himself to us. We have walked the path of Jesus and we have heard His Gospel proclaimed.  We have heard His plan for our salvation and have been given the means to follow His path and the surety that if we do we will be with Him in Heaven.

Today we hear a rather ominous prophecy from both the Old Testament and from Jesus – a sort of biblical special effects extravaganza.  Truth be told – and it is – this will happen – you can make book on that.  But as with everything in the Bible this prophecy has multiple meanings.  The most obvious of which, as I just said, is that Heaven and Earth, as we know it, will end; God will not, and we will be judged.

But another and equally important meaning of these readings, indeed the whole Gospel is:  the end of times is here, has been since Christ walked among us.  Remember St John the Baptist in Matthew proclaimed “Repent, – for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” and after John had been arrested Jesus, God Himself, went about Galilee proclaiming “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” We are living in God’s Kingdom we are living in these end-times.  The end-times started with Christ coming to earth and will be completed when… well… Christ tells us today: “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

So, if you are looking forward to entering eternal life, don’t – eternity has already started.  Pope Benedict in his second volume of Jesus of Nazareth says ‘‘‘Eternal life’ is life itself, real life, which can also be lived in the present age and is no longer challenged by physical death.”  In John’s Gospel Christ Himself proclaims, in His high-priestly prayer: “This is eternal life; that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”  Christ’s prayer is not a statement of the future but the present.

This fact is both challenging and encouraging.

It is challenging because we are called to Repent, and believe in the Gospel, the whole Gospel, not just favorite sections.  We are called to live the teachings of Christ.  Do battle with our sinful nature and, as our reading from Daniel says ‘shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament’… we … ‘shall be like the stars forever’.

But this means that we have to decide daily to follow this path. Each minute of each day our actions determine how we will continue. Are we accepting Christ, making the decision to change as we should; or are we, as it seems with our elected officials in their governance, just kicking the can down the road and hoping something will pop up to fix this mess hoping that there is always enough time.

But I mentioned that today’s readings are encouraging. The apocalyptic vision that Christ describes to His disciples not only explains the very end of times but, if we look deeper we can see another more immanent meaning.

Those who pray the liturgy of the hours might remember this prayer:

“Your power is awesome, Father, and wonderful is your holiness. In your presence the earth both trembles and stands still, for you shattered death’s power by the cross. Rise to help your people: give your light, and grant salvation to the meek of the earth, that they may praise your name in heaven.”

Christ is describing the gift of Himself, the Eucharist, our source of strength.  At each and every Mass the whole of creation stops, and trembles at the greatness of the event.  The Heavenly Hosts, Angels, and Saints watch the greatness of God come to those of us here.  In awe they watch as the Son of Man comes through clouds of this existence ‘with great power and glory’ to help us.  The Universe stops to witness Love of its King.  We are not only given the gift of Holy Mother Church with her teachings and liturgical year to help us with our journey through eternity – but God gives us Himself.  So I constantly have to ask myself, and I hope each of you will do the same ‘Am I giving myself to Him?’

Advertisements

Events

In the second paragraph of Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, he makes the statement: ‘Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.’

Our growth in faith is predicated on this statement.  For our faith to live and thrive it needs be a relationship with a person, not a choice on an abstract idea; it needs to be an event, something that affects us relationally – not a static decision; otherwise it just amounts to a philosophical paradigm that holds no personal impact.  As with our social skills we need to interact in order to grow spiritually, to move, to give our lives direction.

Today’s readings bring this statement into clarity for me.

As I was reflecting on the Gospel, and the first reading from 1st Kings I was drawn to the fact that the major character in both were widows; and I pondered about the events in their lives prior to their actions in the readings.  Here are two people who loved; loved their husbands, they knew what it meant to be united with another as one flesh one body. What it meant to give totally and have someone who did the same for them – the peace and joy associated with this relationship. They knew the devastating sadness of losing that loved one – the hole left in their soul and they knew the continuing event of being alone. But these events, forged their lives, made them who they were.  They continually live in the joyful event of spousal love and devastating event of death and loneliness.  They knew absolute trust and, in a very real sense betrayal.   Who better than they to understand the importance of true love?

And now, they gave freely all that they had to the God. The God who loved unconditionally as they did, who faced betrayal by those he loved as they felt when death took their husbands; and felt the separation and loneliness of Sheol as they feel without their husbands.  By their actions, throughout their lives, they show us that true faith is with a person, who has experienced the events of our lives, who has undergone the same feelings as we feel who loves as we love, even more.  This bond can only be with a person, an event of love – ideas just don’t cut it.

The Greatest Commandment – the great challenge

Today’s Gospel, known by many the ‘The Greatest Commandment discussion’ takes place within a larger discussion with the Sadducees, a group of Jews that were in opposition to the Pharisees, who happened to be there as well.  Our Gospel today starts with “One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’” This paraphrase of Mark leaves out the reference to this dynamic.  The actual words are: “One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’” When we look at the same event in Matthew’s Gospel it starts “But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they came together.  And one of them asked him a question to test him.”  Luke references the lawyer testing Jesus.  Jesus has put himself into a religio-political dynamic between the two major religious sects.

I can’t help but notice similarities between the situation in the Gospel and the societal dynamics of today.  Human groups, however good-willed tend to compete with each other, challenge each other’s validity and strive to climb to the top of whatever contest they are engaged in – at the expense of the proverbial ‘other side’.  It doesn’t matter how close they are in ideals – sadly human nature causes prideful conflict to derail truth and goodness; then as well as now.

Christ comes into that situation and tells them all what they already know; love God totally and love your neighbor as yourselves. ‘There is no other commandment greater than these.’ He tells them – and they agree – they know this.  But as the following days show the Sadducees and Pharisees would rather join together to rid themselves of His threat – so that they could then go back to fighting against each other. It seems that the old adage rings true: ‘anyone who is an enemy of my enemy is my friend’.

Truth was inconvenient to them; they had more important things to do – beating the other side.  History will show that the Sadducees eventually fall to the Pharisees, who eventually fall to Roman destruction, who eventually fall to… I think you get the idea.  Human institutions, be it political, social, religious or anything, do not last if they push aside the eternal truth of God. What did and does and will last is the Word, Jesus, and when we take to heart these two great commandments we are assured that we too will not be far from God.  But as the readings today tell us this message is in constant need of proclamation – both to those around us and to ourselves.  Moses proclaimed it 1,400 years before Jesus reaffirmed it and it has been almost 2,000 years since.

This, my friends in Christ, is our calling – proclamation of the Gospel – in season and out – and I know it is a very difficult task. It is challenged every day and every four years, as we see this year, that message gets even more aggressively challenged as Jesus was in in His times; and opposing sides, who slice each other up otherwise, manage to become allies to reduce the Gospel and its messengers (us) to the margins or use us for their purposes.  It’s our calling to not give in to the manipulations of others and to the despair of a seemingly impossible task.  The Gospel is who we are – we can’t separate it from us because we belong to Christ – He is in us as we in Him. We are bound by love of God to make known the real Truth, to use it in our actions, decisions, and conversations; to help make this reality more and more His Kingdom on earth. If not us – who else?

But take heart – this is our consolation: we are strengthened by the God of our Fathers; we are protected by our Lord and Savior.  We are guaranteed by no less than God Himself that if we only witness to the His words, especially these greatest of commandments, in both words and actions he will show us the path of life, the fullness of joy in His presence.