Scripture Readings: Book of Daniel 12:1-3; Letter to the Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; Gospel According to Mark 13:24-32
We are nearly at the end of the Church’s Liturgical Year. Next Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King and the Sunday after that begins the new Church Year with the first Sunday of Advent, leading up to the Solemnity of Christmas on December 25th. While the Church Calendar doesn’t completely coincide with the civil calendar, in both cases we are drawing close to the end of the year.
How has the past year gone for us? How quickly has it passed? What are our disappointments or regrets over the past year, as well as our joys and accomplishments? Presumably everyone’s answers will be different and that is fine, for we are individuals yet at the same time belong to the larger family of humankind and of the Church. No one is an island, even island-dwellers.
The Gospel text for this penultimate Sunday of the Church year comes from the final chapter about the public ministry of Jesus recorded in Saint Mark’s Gospel, before the Lord undergoes suffering and death and then his glorious resurrection.
We may find the thought and mode of expression in the Gospel today quite foreign to us and the ideas not very clear. Talk of a “period of trials of every sort,” including the sun being darkened and the moon not shining, stars falling out of the sky, as well as “the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory,” are probably things that we rarely ponder or worry much about.
The point of it all is that history and time as we know it will come to an end and the face of the earth will ultimately be renewed in God’s time and ways. When will it all take place, we understandably want to know. Jesus says that no one in fact knows the day nor the hour. The idea being conveyed is to be ready at all times, for in fact all of us will certainly undergo the transformation from this life to the next at the end of our earthly existence at death. Ultimately all of creation will undergo a radical transformation as well at the end of time.
With the closing of the Church year and the soon to begin new one so close at hand, our thoughts should turn and the liturgy has us ponder the coming of God’s Son, both in time, two millennia ago and at the future end of time.
Christ’s divine authority and majesty as judge is an important part of our faith tradition and journey to God’s house throughout our life. Rather than be frightened or alarmed about what is taking place and what is come, Sacred Scripture serves to encourage and strengthen God’s people, each of us, who are faced with challenges, to be alert for God’s coming each day in our life and steadfast for whatever may befall us during our earthly sojourn.
The basic ideas expressed in the Gospel today reflect well the teaching of the Lord and of the Church that the return of Jesus Christ as Lord and judge and the coming of God’s Kingdom are all part of God’s desired plan for the salvation of the human family. Of course people can choose to ignore or reject God’s call and sharing in God’s life, for we are endowed with free will, but God desires that all may be saved.
Since Jesus has already risen from the dead, even now we share in Christ’s risen life and are being called to respond to Christ’s freely-given gifts by a new manner of living. We have a responsibility of being involved in the world whose Lord is Jesus Christ and whose history God is directing.
Believers in God live in the midst of time of uncertainty, turmoil, deception, persecution, ambiguity, deception and tension. No life is free of one or many of these realities. Even in the midst of such challenges we are invited by God to be people of hope and joy. Our hope and joy are to be an expression of belief in the victory of Jesus Christ and his triumph over sin and death, visibly incarnate now. Christians should view history positively, believing firmly in the presence of God within history. Admittedly this is sometimes easier said than done!
When taken by surprise with sudden illness, financial loss or unemployment, death in the family, serious disappointment with children, questions about our faith or the Church, we are fortified to face these realities by our belief that God is with us always and everywhere.
How should we understand history then? Especially by seeing it as the great movement toward the final coming of Christ. As such, all efforts of Christians in the realm of social action, the attempts to better the lives of others, the spreading of knowledge and education, must be done in Christ and with Christ.
The words with which Jesus begins his public ministry on earth remain true: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has sent me to announce the Good News (Gospel) to the poor, to proclaim release for prisoners, the recovery of sight of the blind; to let the broken victims go free” (from the Gospel According to Saint Luke, chapter 4, verse 18). We are Christ’s instruments on earth and called to follow in his footsteps.
The words at Mass after the “Our Father” is prayed, express so well the attitude we should possess in our hope that Jesus’ coming in glory will be the fulfillment of all that he promised for our belonging completely to God;
“Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever.”
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB