33rd SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME. CYCLE B
15th November 2009
Daniel 12:1-3. Mark 13:24-32
This thirty-third Sunday is the last of the Ordinary Sundays of the liturgical year; a good time for us to slow down prayerfully as well as physically and take an inventory of our lives from God’s perspective. It is also a good time to remind ourselves of the spiritual resources each of us has, primary among them, a faithful God; after all Jesus says; “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
Let us hold onto His words; they are of eternal value.
When biblical writers want to get our attention, shake us out of our lethargy and give us hope, they write in the apocalyptic genre. We see evidence of this literature in today’s readings from the book of Daniel and from Mark’s gospel. The word “Apocalypse” comes from the Greek and means “to lift the veil.” Apocalyptic literature suggests what we think we see as true and as reality, in fact, may be obscured by veils. We think we see — we don’t. We think we know the truth and the way things are — but we don’t. We need vision; we need the veil over our own eyes lifted so we can clearly perceive God’s presence and God’s future coming into our world.
The readings for this Sunday are clearly apocalyptical, reminding us of the end of the world and what shall come thereafter. The first reading from the book of Daniel talks about those whose names are “found written in the book”. In the Gospel, Jesus talks about the chosen being gathered after the distress; readings that are both unsettling and comforting.
For many of us, times are troubling and not easy. Personal and family situations have challenges that stretch us thinly in so many ways; physically, financially and perhaps even spiritually. Even the most focused among us find some days far too hectic.
At times, it can seem that we are rolling down a steep hill, out of control, with no real way of stopping or slowing down before we inevitably crash. As I pondered this yesterday I was reminded of the time many years ago when I learnt to snow ski; a feeling that can leave one out of control; until a set of skills are in place and some level of confidence kicks in.
That “set of skills” has a counterpart in Christianity. A daily routine of prayer is one that can certainly minimize the overload we all feel at stressful times and so can regular contact with friends and family who are God’s support to us here on earth.
Part of our spirituality is considering ourselves, but not taken for granted, as someone whose name is written in the book of heaven and thus counted among the elect.
By so thinking and praying, we then try to live accordingly through the ups and downs of some very steep hills and some tricky slopes. My snow skiing skills will have certainly diminished with lack of use and advanced age, but my memory of skiing has not. I know that although I had never been an expert skier, I did navigate down some very steep inclines under the guidance of proper instruction, a skiing partner, self-control, and lots and lots of prayer! I was a bit scared at times, but I did arrive safely, in one piece down the slopes.
One has to think of things these days in those same terms, for even if I was able to return to the ski slopes; I would have to go much slower than the last time I skied, but the results I am sure would be the same, joy, exhilaration and ultimate safety.
Our faithful God will see to it that His promises come true for each of us. Our faithfulness to God will enable us to keep on the right path regardless if we are speeding downhill, maintaining a good course, slowing down, or even stopping for a breather. Prayer and support groups will help our confidence “kick” in as well. These are comforting thoughts as we push ahead in scary times and times of challenge; emerging from difficulties with joy and safety; whatever the tribulations are. God promises us a safe landing——not necessarily a calm passage!
Returning to Mark’s Gospel of which chapter 13, from which today’s reading is taken, is the classic text on the end of the world—a timely message for us all; our thoughts of course turn to the Parousia; the Last Judgment. Not something we should fear, but rather we should be ready for at all times. In a real sense it is something we should rejoice in for it marks the culmination and finalization of a merciful God’s plan for the world. (The end of the beginning!)
Yes, there will be some who, in Daniel’s words, will go to “shame and everlasting disgrace.” But these are only the ones who totally reject God’s forgiveness and love—they are those who deliberately choose not to seek his mercy.
The message we must learn from today’s gospel comes across without any ambiguity or doubt: we must always be ready to face our judgment for we know neither the day nor the hour when we will be called from this life. When or how this world will end is of no great importance to us; what is important is that we shall leave this world and our eternity will depend on the state of one’s conscience at the moment of our departure.
This is the steadying thought the Church, in her wisdom, wishes to put before us today. We all know that we must die someday. As St. Augustine says; “We are strangers and pilgrims on this earth; we have not here a lasting city”. No sane person among us will try to deny this and yet, many of us are so immersed in the things of this world that we forget or try to forget that we must leave this world at some time.
This is very natural: life is a precious gift and as our earthly life is the only one of which we have experience; our every inclination is to hold on to it at all costs. Even when our intelligence tells us that it can, in spite of all our endeavors, end very soon, we try to convince ourselves that that “very soon” is really in the distant future.
We have a loving God’s word for it and the example of Christ’s resurrection to a life of glory. Let us appreciate the truth that our death on earth is not the end of life, but rather the beginning of the true life that will never end. The years on earth are God’s gift to enable us respond to His loving mercy and prepare us for the infinitely greater gift of Eternal Life.
God in his mercy is calling on each one of us to be ready when our call comes. We can do nothing about the “when or the where” of that call, but we can do much about the state of our relationship with God when death comes; in fact, aided by God’s grace we can ensure that all will be well with us. We cannot avoid a sudden death, but we can avoid an unprepared death by striving always to live in peace with God. This does not mean that we must be always on our knees praying to God; and that we must take no interest in the things and the joys of this world. Far from it.
God wants us to use the things of this world, but to use them so that they will not hinder us on our journey.
Fr Kevin O’Sullivan suggests that a very practical way to see how we stand in relation to God and to the things of this world is for each one of us to ask ourselves today: “How would I fare if I were called to render an account of my stewardship tonight?” This is the practical question that God, through today’s readings, is asking us to put to ourselves.
We may get another chance, another warning, and we may not. If we value our eternal happiness we will take this warning; and we will put our books in order; we will make peace with God and our neighbors—and with God’s grace we can come before Him, honest and alone, offering Him the fruit of our lives.
Let us “Take the fig tree as a parable” of the shortness of our own time on Earth and our need to use it well.
The most re-assuring thing about this weekend’s gospel is the line by Jesus ….
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will NOT pass away.”
Jesus’ words, Jesus’ Gospel, Jesus’ values, Jesus’ Kingdom will never, ever pass away. They are of eternal value.
Let us hold onto his words, let us nurture his words and values in our daily lives….
Let us build our lives and priorities on his Kingdom values…
Because these cannot be taken away and cannot be destroyed.