33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today is the next to last Sunday in Ordinary Time. Next Sunday is the Solemnity of Christ the King, then a new liturgical year begins with Advent two weeks from now. Today’s readings encourage us to reflect on how we’ll handle the ending commemorated next Sunday: the end of days when Our Lord returns in glory.

In today’s First Reading the prophet Malachi describes the wicked on the Day of the Lord as burning away in a flash. Stubble burns quickly and intensely. The just will see the same event as warmth, light, and healing. Even though Our Lord foretells persecution and calamities, we should focus on why he is coming, as the Psalm today reminds us: “The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice.” The only people who don’t want justice are bad people, whether through their actions or their omissions, and their injustice will be swept away, no matter how enduring it seemed. The just will experience moments of pain: the prophet tells us the Day of the Lord will bring healing, which implies that there’ll be healing needed. It will require endurance, not resignation.

In today’s Second Reading Paul warns against those who have faced the possibility of the Day of the Lord’s imminence by not working and not living their lives normally. If everything occurs as Our Lord describes in today’s Gospel that attitude is a recipe for disaster. Perseverance requires work and grace. When we’re put on trial it won’t just be our spiritual toughness, but the Holy Spirit that will help us endure and realize that even as we suffer we give witness, and the Spirit gives witness through us. Our suffering and perseverance will inspire others to believe and be saved as well.

In today’s Gospel the disciples ask when the Temple will end, and the Lord starts to explain when the world as we know it will end: his Second Coming. Our Lord gives some signs but doesn’t give them exactly what they’re looking for: a signal. He describes calamities: social upheaval, wars, natural disasters, and persecutions. All of those have existed and will exist during the Church’s pilgrimage on earth, even before the end of history and Our Lord’s return in glory. Our Lord won’t give us a signal, but he will give us the secret to survival: perseverance. Our Lord predicts the destruction of the Temple, but also addresses the question of whether this will signify the end of the world. His disciples didn’t understand it at the time, but he was preparing us all for the long haul. Obviously on a natural and human level we’d have to be terrified by the thought of such events, but Our Lord invites us today to live these things on a supernatural level: with faith in him and hope that good will triumph.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord prepares us for when our faith is put on trial. It’s not some future eschatological and apocalyptic moment: even today Christians are ridiculed, labelled, even beheaded for professing their faith. Our Lord said we’d be a sign of contradiction in the world, so it’s no surprise that when we give witness to him there’ll be a reaction. It may not be a civil court, but our family, the public square, our school, or our workplace. It’s what makes us think twice before saying grace at meals around those we don’t know well, about putting a crucifix or holy card in our cubicle or dorm where others might see, about seeing our faith as something, alongside politics, that should not be brought up in polite conversation.

Our Lord gives us the secret to breaking this little internal stalemate between a desire to share our faith and a fear of how it will turn out: trusting in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit does the talking, if we are living a life that is attentive to the Spirit. Maybe we’re afraid we’ll show how little of our faith we really know and live: that’s the Spirit telling us to work on our prayer life, our lifestyle, and our understanding of the faith. You may find that puts you “on trial” before your family, friends, and colleagues, but it also gives you the spiritual resources to give witness to Our Lord and a great peace knowing you’ve suffered something for the sake of his name.

Readings: Malachi 3:19–20a; Psalm 98:5–9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7–12; Luke 21:5–19. See also 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 14th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year II, and the 34th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday and Wednesday.

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

Today is the next to last Sunday in Ordinary Time. We’ll celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King next Sunday, and today’s readings remind us how close that is. The liturgical year symbolizes the entire work of redemption throughout history, and that work is about to be concluded so that the year can start anew with the First Sunday of Advent. Next Sunday we celebrate the moment of the work of redemption where Christ becomes all in all, as St. Paul would say. It’ll be the day in which the Christian prayer “Thy Kingdom Come!” is completely answered: the Second Coming of Christ. This Sunday is an opportunity to examine how we get ready for the end of the liturgical year and the end of the world as we know it.

Today’s First Reading reminds us what will happen on that day: the end of the world as we know it. When we hear those words each of us must examine ourselves so see what they mean to us. They probably fill us with fear, but they should fill us with hope too. Daniel’s prophecy speaks of a great distress in the world, but also the help of St. Michael the Archangel, the guardian of the Church, just as each of us has a guardian angel, watching over us and helping us in all of life’s trials. Often it seems the end of the world is something sad and distressing, because the world as we know it is about to end. In those moments we must remember the Lord’s promises in the Beatitudes: we’ll have the Kingdom of Heaven, justice, consolation, and mercy. The Beatitudes will fill us with hope, if we strive to live them, because we know Our Lord always keeps his promises.

Today’s Second Reading reminds us that Christ himself, by becoming a sacrifice, has performed a perfect sacrifice that bring us forgiveness and will continue to bring us forgiveness. Our Lord has already won the war against sin and death. Our trials in life are the last battles of a conquest the Lord has already achieved. Now soul after soul are won over until the end of time when “his enemies are made his footstool”: until the forces of evil are definitively defeated. Our Lord’s victory should fill us with hope, because one day neither sin nor death will threaten us ever again.

Today’s Gospel reminds us we won’t know when Christ will return in glory, but also to be vigilant. It’s hard to envision the return, but Our Lord today does describe some of its elements. It won’t just be one tribulation. After the “tribulation” there will be darkness and upheaval. Then the Son of Man will return in glory and his angels will go and gather his elect from everywhere. He’ll leave no one behind who has persevered as his disciple. He encourages us not only to be vigilant, but to be perseverant. When this tribulation and upheaval occur he will be close, right at your “gate.” We don’t know when this’ll start or when it’ll end. This Gospel is one of the few times Our Lord says plainly that the Father is not revealing that information. In contemplating the end of the world let’s be vigilant, because a little healthy concern keeps us on our toes, but also full of hope, because even though there’ll be these final battles Jesus has already won the war.

Readings: Daniel 12:1–3; Psalm 16:5, 8–11; Hebrews 10:11–14, 18; Mark 13:24–32. See also 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

A recurring theme in all of today’s readings is the importance of a healthy respect for the Lord. In Biblical language this is usually referred to as “the fear of the Lord,” but today’s Gospel parable reminds us that fear can rattle us into making bad decisions as well as encourage us to make good ones.

Today’s First Reading presents an abbreviated wish list of everything a man should expect from a good wife, but also what is her due. A man entrusts his whole heart to a woman he considers “worthy.” She brings good things into his life, not grief. She is industrious and productive with her talents. She is not selfish, but helps the poor and needy. She is not focused on vanity, but what the Lord expects of her. Note that it says she “fears the Lord”: everything she does is out of respect for the Lord, not just her husband or society. And, as justice demands, she should be rewarded for her praiseworthy works. A good wife has all the characteristics of the fruitful servants in today’s Gospel, and this wish list could describe any person we consider good.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul teaches the Thessalonians that if they truly respect the Lord and put that respect into practice they should have no fear about the day he comes. The Thessalonians are worried about when the Second Coming will occur. Paul tells them it is completely pointless to worry if they live a holy life. What does the thought of Christ returning in glory today do to you? The only fear it should bring is for the unrepentant sinners who’d face Judgment. It is the guilty who fear discovery and judgment. The guilty hide in a life unillumined by the light of Christ, thinking it provides them cover. The fear of the Lord’s judgment can rattle us in the same way, making us scramble for a cover that does not exist, trying to avoid a judgment we know we deserve, all in vain. It’s an awareness of the Lord’s love and mercy that makes us always respect him and live, without fear, in the light of a holy life pleasing to him.

Today’s Gospel is a parable about life. The master in today’s parable gives his servants all the capital they need, but he also expects them to use that capital in a way that benefits not only him, but them. Two servants use it wisely, and one, so rattled by a fear of his master, doesn’t benefit the master or himself at all and pays the price. We have been given talents, some more, some less, and we’re expected to do something with them. We cannot boast about coming up with any of them on our own. It doesn’t matter how talented we are; what matters is how we use our talents in the service of God and for the good of others. The successful servants doubled what they’d received; if through our efforts even one more believer stands before Our Lord on Judgment Day, prepared to enter into his master’s joy, we’ll have accomplished our mission. In the Last Supper the Lord reminded his disciples that they were to bear fruit as the best way of glorifying the Father (see John 15:2, 4, 5, 8, 16). How do we give the Lord a return on his investment in us?

We mustn’t let fear be an obstacle in truly serving Our Lord. As the unfortunate servant found out today, he was so rattled about what he thought were his master’s expectations that he made the wrong move. He was so culpably foolish that the simple steps he could have taken were far from his thoughts. Who knows how things would have turned out if he had simply asked his master for suggestions in the first place. We too must ask the Lord to help us unearth our talents and teach us the best way to use them.

Readings: Proverbs 31:10–13, 19–20, 30–31; 1 Thessalonians 5:1–6; 25:14–30.

33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II

Today’s First Reading is a part of John’s Revelation that is difficult to decipher, because John communicates many things in the same set of symbols. John is speaking in symbols to the Christians of his time regarding the persecution of Rome; the “beast” here refers to Nero as much as it refers to the antichrist. The two prophets, in a context of Roman persecution, could be Saints Peter and Paul, who were both martyred there during the persecution of Nero. The symbolism of the olive tree and lamp stands means that they are martyrs (in Zechariah 4:8-14, olive trees refer to the anointed witnesses Joshua and Zerubbabel), not to mention their fate at the hands of the people’s incredulity and the beast who didn’t accept their message. Yet the passage is full of symbolism taken from the most miraculous prophets (Elijah), Moses (pronouncing plagues upon “Egypt”), and Enoch (who was taken up into Heaven). Rome is branded as “Sodom” and “Egypt” for its immorality and oppression of God’s people. Some scholars believe it refers to the Church as a whole, and Saint Peter and Paul are co-patrons of Rome and could easily represent the whole Church.

The fire that comes from their mouths could also be seen as a purifying fire: if you’re impure, you’ll simply be burned away, but the purity in you will be refined. This could represent the fire of truth: the Gospel. Everyone appreciates a fiery preacher, and they epitomize that quality because they’re preaching the unadulterated truth of the Gospel with fire and conviction. The two prophets seem to share the fate of all prophets: they rub their incredulous listeners the wrong way, and, eventually, are killed to silence the message they’re bearing. However, in this case it takes the epitome of lies and evil, the beast, to bring them down. It brings something new: the greatest calamity that could befall them (evil and death) are powerless in the light of eternal life. They’re not only restored to life, but taken up into Heaven. Until this point of salvation history being taken up was something either shrouded in mystery (as in the case of Enoch) or only witnessed by a faithful few (for example, Elijah and Our Lord himself at his Ascension). Now the wicked as well as the righteous see it, an allusion to the revelation of God’s designs now being manifest for all, something that will only happen in the end times.

When we’re faced with evil and death as the ultimate deterrents of this world we must follow the example of the two prophets in today’s readings and not shy away from preaching the Gospel with conviction. We are all those witnesses, and we’ll be rejected, scorned, and even killed for our belief, but in faith we know that evil and death will not have the last word

Readings: Revelation 11:4–12; Psalm 144:1–2, 9–10; Luke 20:27–40.  See also 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, and 9th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday.

33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year II

In today’s First Reading the apostle and evangelist John’s visions of the end time continue with the vision of a mighty angel standing on land and sea bearing a small scroll. John approaches and asks for the scroll. The angel straddling land and sea symbolizes that the message he is bearing, represented by the scroll, is meant for everyone. John asks for the scroll and is instructed to eat the scroll, which is sweet to the taste, but sour to the stomach. The message is sweet because it predicts the final victory of God’s people, but also sour because it’ll be a hard won victory: the message also announces the suffering of God’s people.

As Christians this prediction should not shock us: Our Lord said we had to take up our cross and follow him, and that anyone who sought to save his life would lose it. Christianity without crosses is incomplete; it wouldn’t event represent the Christianity of its Founder. We will also face suffering and persecution for being part of God’s people, but we continue in hope knowing that the victory has already been won by Our Lord.

Whether we’re oblivious or defeatist, today’s message is a call to hope and perseverance. Let’s not shy away from suffering, because it is the path to victory.

Readings: Revelation 10:8–11; Psalm 119:14, 24, 72, 103, 111, 131; Luke 19:45–48. See also 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Friday and 8th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year I.