End Of Times

The end of the liturgical year is upon us; next week is the last Sunday which is the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe. Throughout the liturgical year you and I have celebrated within the Mass the great mysteries of God in the special seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and of course the Sacred Triduum. We have been taught throughout the season Ordinary Time what it means to be a disciple and how we should live our lives. And throughout the year, at each Sunday Mass professed our beliefs by proclaiming the Creed.

Now, in these past few weeks Holy Mother Church points us to the end of times. She is witnessing to what our final goal is and what needs to take place, both around us and within us. This Sunday, our readings dive deep into the meaning of one line in the Creed which we are about to proclaim: ‘Jesus will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.[1] These aren’t her words; Holy Mother Church didn’t make them up; no, Christ Himself has given us knowledge of the end.

The first reading is a warning about the judgement to come, our personal judgement:

Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven,
when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble,
and the day that is coming will set them on fire,
leaving them neither root nor branch,
says the LORD of hosts.
But for you who fear my name, there will arise
the sun of justice with its healing rays.[2]

God, will come and judge our lives; Heaven and Hell are real; these are solid and irrefutable facts. But, the end times are not a foregone conclusion. We can affect our eternal goal, as we hear in Malachi: ‘But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.’[3] By the words ‘we who fear His name[4] we mean: we who revere God to the point that we want to do everything we can to be close to Him, do His will, avoid sin.  We mean: we whose greatest fear is that of letting down the most loved person in our lives. We mean: we who offer back our existence to He who gave it to us; to trust in Him completely. This is what we mean; what we are meant for. This is what will affect our final judgement.

In addition, Christ tells us that we can never know when this judgement will come. In Matthew, He tells us: ‘But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.[5]; and so, we must persevere – come what may. Christ tells His apostles and us in the Gospel today: ‘By your perseverance you will secure your lives.[6] By perseverance ‘not a hair on your head will be destroyed[7] He tells us. This is how Jesus will judge each of us. All of us will stand in front of Him and be held accountable. All of us must be prepared.

These readings sound heartless and mean, they can sound scary and threating. We know our selves. How can we hope to meet this threshold of salvation? How can we have the strength to persevere?  Take heart – our judge has been one of us; has lived among us. We will stand in front of Jesus who is our brother. He knows what it means to be a frail human, what it means to suffer, what it means to face overwhelming forces and struggle with goals. The then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote. ‘One is reminded of the mighty vision of Christ with which the Book of Revelation begins (Rev 1:9-19): the seer sinks down as though dead before this being full of seemingly sinister power. But the Lord lays his hand on him and says ‘Fear not, it is I’ (1:17)[8]

Brothers and sisters, we come to the end of this year’s lessons. We are given the full import of our final judgement. We can understand that to succeed we need to fear the right things – fear of failing God, not of God’s judgement. The first affects the other.

Why? Because the God of justice is first and foremost a God of mercy. If we hold close to Him, trust in Him, ask for His forgiveness for those many times we have failed – he will embrace us; Yes, even if we fail and fall and return to Him again and again – He can’t do otherwise. Or as St. Paul writes so poetically ‘The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful–for he cannot deny himself.[9]

He remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.[10] These are powerful words that we can hang our hope on.

My friends – these readings are even more profound on this day; the day when the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy begins to close. But even though the year is closing and St. John the Baptist Parish Holy Doors are closing, God’s heart will never close. Let’s look to our Lord, especially in those times of trial and persecution, fear what is important to fear and hold on to His love and mercy. And most importantly pass it forward to those who we see that need it as much as we do.

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[1] Nicene-Constantinapolitan Creed
[2] 1 MAL 3:19-20A
[3] 1 MAL 3:20A
[4] ibid
[5] MT 24:36
[6] LK 21:19
[7] LK 21:18
[8] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), Introduction to Christianity pg. 251
[9] 2 TIM 2:11-13
[10] 2 TIM 2:13

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The Mist

After last Sunday the readings at Mass have turned Eschatological; Holy Mother Church is now reflecting on the end of times. This of course continues to next weekend and the Solemnity of Christ the King; but it doesn’t stop there. Our meditation on the end-of-times continues into Advent, indeed the first three weeks of Advent are concerned with it.

Mankind has always tried to look forward to see what will happen – what is our fate. In his first Volume of Jesus of Nazareth Pope Benedict XVI opens with this consideration. ‘In every age, man’s questioning has focused not only on his ultimate origin; almost more than the obscurity of his beginnings, what preoccupies him is the hiddenness of the future that awaits him. Man wants to tear aside the curtain; he wants to know what is going to happen, so that he can avoid perdition and set out toward salvation.[1] We just want to know. With the horrific events in Paris this week this becomes even more pressing for us. What does the future have in store for us? We have seen once again how suddenly life can end; we are nervous about our future.

But, whereas mankind looks with uncertainty and even trepidation to the future, to eternity; and is preoccupied with knowing about it; this is not why Holy Mother Church takes five weeks or so to reflect on it.  There should be no worries.

The Jews of Christ’s time had a unique and healthy understanding of eternity. It doesn’t start with our death – it starts now. We too should embrace this understanding; we are already in eternity, we are already living in the Kingdom of God.  Though we know that eventually we all will see the final judgement; we know what is in store – Christ. Holy Mother Church offers us these weeks of reflection to help us embrace the true path; not to ponder where it leads.  Our uncertainty should be directed within; how are we living the life God calls us to.

When events such as those in Paris this week strike us to the heart, and doubt about our future swells within us, we should embrace eternity by embracing He who is the face of eternity – Jesus Christ; the one who tells us ‘Take heart, it is I; have no fear.[2] And then with open hearts longing for forgiveness and mercy, and the desire to be with Him we can be at peace because will know what lies in store for us – the mist of the future will separate pierced by the light of Christ.

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[1] Jesus of Nazareth Vol 1 pg 1 – Pope Benedict XVI
[2] Mark 6:50 (RSV)

Certainty

In one the first RCIA classes I attended 21 years ago Father asked a question to the class.  How many in this room are at least a little afraid of dying?  Many, including the catechists, didn’t raise their hands; some of us, including me and surprisingly Father Mike, did.  He then went on to say that it was normal to be nervous, a little afraid of the future because it is an unknown; and dying even more so, because it is an unknown involving eternity.

At the very beginning of his trilogy on Jesus Nazareth Pope Benedict XVI writes ‘In every age, man’s questioning has focused not only on his ultimate origin … [but also] what preoccupies him is the hiddenness of the future that awaits him.  Man wants to tear aside the curtain; he wants to know what is going to happen, so that he can avoid perdition and set out toward salvation.[1]

So it is that mankind’s curiosity of eternity hovers on the edge of fear.  Most people are fearful of eternity because they are not really convinced they know what it entails.  Even the most devout Christians who believe Christ’s revelation about what it entails are fearful that we won’t pass the grade when it comes.  So it is no surprise that today’s Gospel[2] and St. Paul’s words today at Mass from his 1st letter to the Thessalonians[3] make us at least a little nervous. “Concerning times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you.  For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.[4] we heard from St. Paul today and as I heard these words I felt myself wonder will I be caught unaware to enter eternity. When the time comes will I be worthy of the Kingdom of God – heaven?

The Jews of the Bible viewed eternity somewhat differently than we do.  I bet if I asked each of you what eternity means you would say it is where we end up after we die (or some variation of that) – something down the proverbial road from now; somewhere in future. Not so with the Jews of Jesus day; eternity to them was the present onward. History was yesterday and back; but eternity begins now – with the present.

Brothers and sisters, as our Jewish brothers understand we have reached eternity; and as Christ proclaims we have already entered into the Kingdom God.  “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”[5] He tells us in Mark.  The truth of eternity/eternal life shouldn’t be uncertain – we know what it is – we have seen it. Jesus praying to His Father gives us this knowledge: “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ”.[6]

The questions of what eternity is and when it starts are answered – there should be no uncertainty. Our concerns should be centered on how we live our life at this beginning of eternity.  Our energies should be focused on following the true path – Jesus Christ; because without Him we are lost.  The good news is that Christ has given us the surest guide and companion for our journey – Holy Mother Church.  Today’s first reading from Proverbs[7] gives us this great news.  At first reading it seems to be about spousal love and self-giving, and it is.  But it is also about Christ’s relation with His spouse – Holy Mother Church. Christ who has given us His bride to help us, to be our refuge, our guide; loves her absolutely ‘entrusting his heart to her’[8]. With this understanding we can be assured that if we live within Holy Mother Church we are walking with Christ.  The darkness of the world and its prince cannot pierce the light of Christ that shines through His bride.  Holy Mother Church who radiates the light of Christ bathes her children in that same light – if we allow her to.  With her we walk along eternity towards her spouse and our final home. With her we need to bring as many of our neighbors who live in darkness into the light of eternal certitude – into the loving embrace of God.

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[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth Volume 1 pg 1
[2] Mt 25:14-30
[3] 1 Thes 5:1-6
[4] 1 Thes 5:1-2
[5] Mk 1:15
[6] Jn 17:3
[7] Prvbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
[8] Prvbs 31:13