33rd Sunday Ordinary Time
Be Watchful, Pray Constantly
In July, 1982, 91 year-old Liza Poteete was laid to rest in the cemetery at Blairsville, Georgia. Officiating at the graveside was the Reverend Ray Hewett, pastor of Hope Road Church of God in nearby Dunwoody. Reverend Mr. Hewett, expressing his reflections to the fifty relatives and friends of Liza who were there, reminded them of the unpredictability of death. "We never know," he said, "who is going next!"
Minutes afterwards, while the little crowd was leaving the grave, a bolt of lightning shot forth from a menacing cloud and killed Liza's grandson, Donald Metcalf. It also knocked his wife, Martha, senseless and burned their five-year-old son. Finally, it picked up the installer of the vault, James Cherry, and tossed him six feet into the air. "Like a balloon." Cherry told the Associated Press representative the following day. "It was like - bang!" recalled the Reverend Hewett. "I never witnessed anything like that in my 20 years of preaching!"
St. Matthew's gospel quotes our Lord as saying "As the lightning from the east flashes to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be." Today's passage from the gospel of Mark records the same warnings about the sudden frightening signs that are to precede Christ's final coming to judge the living and the dead. Again and again Jesus cautions us to be ready to give an account to Him in the presence of all His creatures, of how we have used His grace.
The universal judgment has been long in coming, and may be delayed a good deal longer. But we must also be ready always for a sudden personal summons. James Cherry, Blairsville, preserved from death said, "I know there's a God up above looking after us, and it just wasn't my time!! But it was Donald Metcalf's time."
On this last Sunday of the church year, therefore, the liturgy warns us to be ready at all seasons for the coming of our Judge. As the Alleluia verse says: "Be watchful, pray constantly that you may be worthy to stand before the Son of Man."
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q241: What does the "fig tree" in today's gospel (Mk 13:24-32) have to do with the End of Time?
Jesus was an expert at taking ordinary, everyday things from our lived experiences (or rather, those of the people of his own time) and drawing a simple lesson from them for the people. The fig tree is no exception, since it was (and is) a very common tree in Israel. Like our cherry tree in America, the blossoms of the fig tree in the Middle East are a "sign" of the arrival of Spring.
And reading the "signs" gives us the solution to the question. When the blossoms appear on a fig tree, you know what it means; it means that springtime has arrived. In the same way, Jesus says, learn to understand what the "signs in the heavens" mean - - they are a warning that you need to be prepared!
Is this a "fearsome" thing? Of course not. All apocalyptic literature or language is meant to bring hope to the true believer. The Book of Revelation, for example, is not meant to encourage us to stock up on provisions to last us through those end times, but rather to show us that we need not fear: we know who the winner will be! On the other hand, apocalyptic language is at the same time a reminder that we need to be prepared, to expect Jesus to return at any moment. What state of affairs will our faith and our soul be in at that unforeseen moment? Don't take a chance - - be ready; be hopeful; be confident, no matter what kind of suffering or persecution you may be experiencing.
Live according to God's law of love. Then you will find that your name has indeed been written in "the book" (First Reading: Dan 12:1-3). There is absolutely nothing to fear.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The "end times" is not a new concept; it began with the Incarnation (CCC #686). We do not know the date of the end of the earth or humankind (CCC #1048), but we do know that it will be a mysterious, transforming renewal of both humanity and the world (CCC #1043-46). Do you have a holy fear of God, and a blessed hope of the Lord's return (CCC #1041)? What actions do you think you could take to express and live your faith in this reality?
Q398: This gospel is scary stuff (Mark 13:24-32). We have "natural" catastrophes all the time; how will we know which "signs" point to the glorious coming of Christ?
The "signs" that Jesus is talking about will be colossal and quite cosmic. It is pretty hard to misunderstand a darkened sun, a darkened moon, and falling stars - all in the same period of time. Jesus makes it clear that we will not mistake the cosmic signs, just like we cannot mistake the coming of Spring; both will be instantly recognizable. Very emphatically, Jesus says "you will know" when the Son of Man is coming!
If we are not ready… too bad! It will then be too late. We have experienced "natural" disasters and wars of giant proportions, as chastisements and as warnings of what is yet to come. No one knows the exact date or hour; but the "cosmic event" is coming, and Christ will return "with great power and glory." His chosen - those who are striving daily to do His will - will then be gathered and assemble in His presence. That is His promise.
So the message is clear: if no one knows "when" this will happen, we had better be prepared! Are you willing to gamble with your soul's eternal life and put off a necessary confession for weeks or more? Is there someone in your life whom you still refuse to forgive? Is your prayer life only lukewarm and sporadic? Are there other "habits" you need to reverse and replace with virtues, right now? Most importantly, do you humbly adhere to the teachings of the Magisterium in matters of faith and morals?
The gospel does not have to "scare" us; rather, it is Good News! Jesus promises to come again, and he is giving us ample warning and daily opportunities to amend our lives. He leaves the choice to us.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! It is indeed Good News to know that Jesus is coming back to gather His chosen ones, those who do His will. That is cause for hope and for rejoicing, to remember His promise. That is also why we can pray the prayer of the early Christians, Maranatha - come, Lord Jesus! (CCC #671).
How Long, O Lord?
The early Christians suffered much persecution and they longingly awaited Jesus' second coming to perfect the work he had begun. They thought that the Parousia would come in their lifetime. But that was not to be. They echoed the cry of the ancient Israelites, "How Long, O Lord?" When we experience hard times and troubles we too often cry out How Long? The Scriptures today give us hope that out of our hard times Jesus will give us new beginnings. We believe that in following the way of Jesus the cross must come before the resurrection. The hard times will yield new beginnings; a new light will dawn and a new creation will arise out of the cinders and wreckage of this world.
Lord Jesus, we pray that through our own suffering we may learn to be sensitive to the sufferings of others. Help us to do what we can to relieve them even if this requires some sacrifices for us.