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November 14, 2021: Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Pastor’s Corner

Apocalypse Now!

The end of the word is a perennial source of both fear and fascination.  On the one hand, we naturally fear the end of things: the end of plans, relationships, even the final moments of our life. Facing the unknown of the end is frightening indeed. At the same time, the end of the world is a source of endless fascination. Some of the most memorable art, movies and literature have been inspired by the imagination of the final days. As we come to the end of the liturgical year, the readings at Mass reflect this sense of end of the world.  This type of Scripture is called “apocalyptic.”  While we might think the word “apocalypse” refers to the end of the world, it actually is a word of Greek origin which means “unveiling” or in Latin “revealing.”  Apocalyptic literature in not simply an account of the end of the world, but what the end reveals: God’s presence in the midst of disaster and doom. Nothing lasts forever.  Whether you believe in God or not, entropy is a scientific fact.  Our faith reveals the hidden, apocalyptic truth: God is God and His providence can guide and direct even the fearsome frightening prospect of the end.   So with increasing intensity, November is the time of year when we traditionally contemplate upon the four “Last Things:” death, judgement, heaven and hell in order that we might discover the hopeful presence of God in the midst of such fear inducing realities.  In the first reading, the prophet Daniel conjures images of God’s providence in the midst of destruction: “’It shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time.  At that time your people shall escape, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.  But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.’ ” (Daniel 12:2-3)

In the Gospel, we continue to read from St. Mark where we encounter Jesus who speaks about the impending end of all things in terms of his glorious post Resurrection return: “’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.’” (Mark 13:24-27).

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 the beginning of everlasting joy.

~ Fr. Michael

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