November 17, 2019: Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time: Pastor’s Corner
State on Fire. Accompanied by dramatic and vivid photos, this headline caught my attention as wildfires continue to rage up and down California. With the threat to life and home imperiling so many, the conclusion of the article noted the remarkable efforts of first responders who sprang into action with heroic energy. To see the bravery and willingness of people to wade into the heat and smoke of catastrophe is edifying. Times of disaster, while daunting, can wonderfully bring out the best in those who strive for virtue.
As we come to end of the liturgical year, the readings at Mass reflect this sense of God’s presence in the midst of disaster and doom. As Fr. Isaiah noted in his reflection last week, November is the time of year when we traditionally contemplate upon the four “Last Things:” death, judgement, heaven and hell. In the first reading, the prophet Malachi conjures images of contemporary headlines when he employs the metaphor of a wildfire in order to speak of the nature of these four last things. “Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the LORD of hosts. But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.” (Mal. 3:19-20). In the Gospel, we continue to read from St. Luke where we encounter Jesus also speaking about these four Last Things. Last Sunday, we heard the story of the seven brothers for one bride in which Jesus underscores the reality of death in the light of his own Resurrection. Since our God is the “God of the living,” death no longer has the last word. This week, Jesus speaks about the impending end of all things, when he speaks about the destruction of the temple: “All that you see here, the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” (Luke 21:5)
These reflections both comfort and challenge us to contemplate the ultimate realities of our lives. Now in the midst of our daily activity and routine, reflecting on ultimate realities is not something that we often entertain. Life’s busyness fosters spiritual amnesia. We frequently lose focus of our final destiny and its surrounding realities. As a spiritual antidote to this forgetfulness, our year-end liturgies confront us with the facts: we will die, we will be judged and, in the end, we will live forever with God in heaven or apart from him in hell. No matter our station or vocation in life, these are the facts. And yet, the Church does not present the four last things to arouse anxiety, distress and fear. On the contrary, we reflect on death and judgment in light of Christ’s saving death and resurrection. Just as in Adam, we all die, so too, in Christ we will be raised. For those who believe, meditating on death and judgment is not a morbid exercise, but rather, a spiritual practice meant to awaken the virtue of hope. For love is stronger than death and, so for the baptized, death is not the final word. In death, our life is changed not ended. Certainly Christ warns us that we will be accountable for all the time, talent and treasure we’ve been given. And it’s a sobering thought. In the piercing fire of the Creator of light, there will be little room for rationalizations and excuses. And yet we believe that, even in judgment, God’s mercy conquers all sin and shame, if we are open to receive the warmth of his love. For the fire of God’s mercy heals even our deepest wounds. We approach the final fiery, realities of death and judgment with the hope that our earthly end will be beginning of everlasting joy.
~ Fr. Michael