33rd Sunday Ordinary Time
A Homily - B Cycle - 2002-2003
First Reading - Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm - 16:5, 8, 9-10,11
Second Reading - Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
Gospel - Mark 13:24-32
Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
Jesus said to his disciples: "In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky. "Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
This morning, our Gospel from St. mark points a rather gloomy picture of what we call The End Time. It's a rather cryptic description of what we should expect to happen at the end of time - when our Lord returns in glory and separates the good from the evil; the sheep from the goat - when purgatory will cease to exist and only two realities will remain - heaven and hell.
Of course, none of us can change the inevitable - the end of the world. That event, whether we like it or not, will happen at some point. However, our Gospel teaches us that while we can't change the fact that this world will end, we can, by God's grace, change how we prepare for it.
The lesson of the fig tree asks two simple questions. First, it asks, "Are we ready?" Second, it asks, "If we're not, then what are we doing about that?" This past week, I had the pleasure of leading a pilgrimage with my former parish to Rome, Assisi, Florence and Sienna. I just returned last night. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience to be able to take first-time pilgrims to these holy places and to lead them in prayer. When we arrived in Assisi, I was automatically taken back six years ago, when I was a seminarian in Rome. My class had just completed a retreat in Assisi and we were back in Rome just two days before a huge earthquake rocked central Italy and destroyed large portions of the Basilica of San Francesco, where the much-revered saint lies buried. I remember how for seven seconds, our building in Rome shook in the middle of the night and moved my bed 3 feet off the wall. I woke up in the middle of the quake and thought, "Oh, man...what a way to go! And I didn't even get ordained! My parents will be devastated. Well, Lord, I guess I'm ready but please don't make it painful."
Obviously, I survived the earthquake, but in its aftermath, it certainly forced me to ask myself, "Was I really ready to meet the Lord? Did I really have a personal relationship with our heavenly Father so as to face Him with confidence and love, full of trust that He would have mercy on me? Did I spend my life asking what was the minimum I could do to be a dutiful Catholic or was that really the question which someone who loves another should even ask? Did I ask whether something was the right thing to do or rather, could I get away with it?"
I always make preparations for every trip I take, especially if I travel by plane: I have guide books, maps, hotel information, contact information left here, and reservations for this and that. I show up at the airport with plenty of time to spare in order to get checked-in and through security. So should it be with our spiritual lives and our pilgrimage of faith back to the Father's house in heaven, our true homeland. We have the sacraments, prayer, the assistance of priests and the aid of the Church. Each of us, if we already haven't, ought to develop a spiritual plan of life - a daily regimen of personal prayer and study of the Catholic Faith. It doesn't need to be anything complicated or overly-pious - just a simple, reliable, easy and effective routine of prayer and study of Scripture and the Catechism that will assist us in making our Faith not something we only do for one hour a week on Sundays, but rather - the very thread of the fabric of our lives.
Another travel necessity is the Sacrament of Penance. I recommend that every person who has made their First Communion go to Confession every 2 months. The Pope goes everyday and many priests I know go at least once a week. It's a great way of staying accountable to a priest-Confessor; of gaining better self-awareness of our state of soul; of rooting out those nagging sins and faults' and of coming to a greater dependence and appreciation of God's mercy, which we so sorely need. As the penitential season of Advent approaches, we do well to make use of this sacrament of mercy.
Above all, the greatest aid that we have to prepare for The End Times is the Eucharist - we have Jesus the Lord Himself, body, blood, soul and divinity in the sacrament of the Eucharist. This theme of the Eucharist is a focus of our second reading from Hebrews and it reminds us that the Lord Jesus is the one, true and perfect sacrifice offered for the remission of the sins of the world. Jesus is both priest and victim and He is the perfect sacrifice that satisfies the Father. The reference to the priest in this reading is a reference to the Jewish priests of the Old Law, who are now replaced by the great high priest of the New Law, who is a person - the Lord Jesus Himself. Catholic priests only participate in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus back to the Father. By his one offering, the Lord Jesus has perfected those who are being consecrated. This means that Calvary has redeemed us - made us able to be saved, but salvation will not be ours until we meet the Lord God face to face and know for sure if we have been saved.
So, we still ask, "Are we ready?" and "If we're not, then what are we doing about that?" Strengthened by our hope and trust in the Lord Jesus, let us approach the sacrament of the Eucharist - the very source and summit of the Church's life with a great spirit of zeal that will inspire us to cooperate with God's grace to become truly ready at all times for what awaits all of us. May the Blessed Virgin Mary teach us how to love selflessly - to give without counting the cost and to truly cultivate a personal relationship with her Son, who wishes us to reign with Him in glory at the end of time.
Praised by Jesus Christ. Now and forever!
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