Tuesday, November 29, 2016

2nd Sunday of Advent

The Messiah is coming… Emmanuel.  How do we know this?  Prophets through the ages have been telling us and their scribes have been preserving those words so that we can recognize the signs.  Our readings for this coming Sunday give a picture of who this deliverer will be, who he’s come for, and how we should respond:

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
Romans 15:4-9
Mathew 3:1-12

Our first reading is from the prophet Isaiah.  Here he describes for us a vision of the ideal king… the one who will “fear the Lord” and be a just judge; whose words will be his only weapons and whose reign will bring universal peace.  It will be so glorious that all the nations will seek it out.  To our Christian ears, this “shoot of Jesse” (King David’s father) sounds very much like Jesus himself.  But wait… This passage dates back some 720 years before Jesus.  Sometimes when we get a prophecy like this we need to pause and remind ourselves that Isaiah wasn’t speaking specifically about Jesus, but rather, about the qualities the messiah would possess.  Often it is our 20/20 hindsight that allows us to recognize Jesus in this prophecy.  It also helps us to consider where Isaiah was coming from when he said this.  In this case, the previous chapters just before this verse consist of a long and scathing oracle against the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.  Kingdoms that have turned their back on God.  Isaiah is prophesying that there will rise a new king who will love the Lord and serve as the “ideal” king.  Our Psalm reflects this sentiment as we sing, “Justice will flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.”

So, our first reading tells us who this new king will be so we can recognize him when he comes.  But for whom will this new king be coming?  Our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us.  First, Paul reminds us to be attentive to the scriptures, because these provide us instruction, endurance, encouragement, and hope.  Then, using those same scriptures, reminds us that Jesus, the prophesied new king, came not only for the Jews, but for the Gentiles as well.

Now that we know who this new king is coming to serve, what must we do to prepare?  Our Gospel from Matthew has the answer.  In this Sunday’s passage we are introduced to John the Baptist… the unconventional messenger for this unconventional new king.  John’s message?  “Repent, for the kingdom is at hand!”  Just as Isaiah was trying to teach the people of Israel and Judah to change their ways and turn back to the Lord, John is reminding the people of Jerusalem (including the Pharisees and Sadducees in attendance) that they much repent of their sins.  It’s decision time, where the wheat will be separated from the chaff.

Final thoughts:

John’s message can be terrifying… leaving us to fear that we will be the chaff sent into the fire.  But John’s message isn’t one of fear, but of hope.  We all have a chance to bear fruit in this new Kingdom of God.  We can all save ourselves from the unquenchable fire.  All we have to do is repent.  To prayerfully examine our consciences, admit where we have made mistakes, and take action to get right and stay right with God.  And it’s an invitation open to everyone!

While I often bemoan the fact that our secular world has confiscated and mutated our traditions of Christmas, I also hold out hope that the true message of Advent and Christmas will come through all the clutter… the message that Christ came for everyone, and salvation is open to all who are willing to follow.

Monday, November 28, 2016

1st Sunday of Advent: Follow-up...

As I noted in the commentary for the 1st Sunday of Advent, this is a season of penitent reflection, a time for us to slow down and consider if we are ready to meet Christ when he comes again.

Seems I'm not alone in that thinking.  Here's some links I'd like to share:

From the online Catholic news magazine Crux:

From  the online forum "For Her":

From Matthew Kelly's Dynamic Catholic ministry, there's Best Advent Ever

And lastly, from America Magazine:

On some of the outer fringes of Protestant Christianity there has been this growing movement to "Take Back Christmas."  They are understandably frustrated with how our secular society has taken over this uniquely Christian celebration and turned it into something completely different.

I don't think we Catholics have ever felt we've lost the Christmas in this same way.  Why?  Because we've always had the Season of Advent.  Celebrating Advent allows us the time we need to reflect, taking time to prepare both our souls and our homes.  Christmas will still come, just as it did in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," and we know the celebration will last a full 12 days (plus-or-minus on the new Liturgical calendar).  So we know there's no rush.  No need to feel pressured.  No reason to feel offended by something we didn't feel was lost.

There is a rhythm and a purpose to our Liturgical calendar, reflective of the highs and lows of the seasons.  Right now as Fall gives way to Winter, we celebrate the end of the harvest and prepare our homes for the cool bluster of winter.  What better time to thank God for his blessings and prepare our spirits for his coming again.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

1st Sunday of Advent

The First Sunday Advent marks the beginning of the new Liturgical year.  The green vestments and décor of Ordinary Time are put away, replaced with the purple vestments and décor of Advent.  Like Lent, Advent is a season of penitent reflection.  While our secular culture sees this time as the beginning of a frantic holiday season, we Catholics are asked to slow down, take a step back, and prayerfully consider if we are ready for the coming of Christ… that is, his second coming.

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:37-44

Our first reading comes from the second chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah.  The book of Isaiah is one of the longest of all the prophets, and spans a period from before the Assyrian attack on the Northern Kingdom, all the way through (and long after his death) to the end of the Babylonian Exile.  This Sunday’s passage comes from the beginning of Isaiah, showing us a vision of Zion… the ideal, Heavenly Jerusalem where God reigns and his people serve as an example to all nations.  It’s place here a the beginning of Advent reminds us of both what is expected of us, and what we can look forward to.  While this is indeed a glorious vision, Isaiah’s purpose in showing this is to remind the kingdoms of Israel and Judah of how far they have fallen from God’s graces.  Without a change of heart, the promise of Zion could be lost.  That promise of Zion is echoed in our Psalm when we sing, “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.”  If this Psalm sounds familiar, it should.  We sang it last week for our celebration of Christ the King.  Now it serves as a bridge between the old year and the new.

In our second reading, the often poetic Paul doesn’t mince words in this excerpt from his letter to the Romans.  He flat out warns them that the time of Jesus’ return is at hand, and that they need to behave accordingly.  He specifically warns against “desires of the flesh.” and the sort of behaviors we often associate with the excesses of the Roman culture.  While it is unlikely that the behaviors Paul warns against were rampant, they were still very prevalent in the metropolis that is Rome, giving Paul cause for concern.  Thus he wants remind this young Christian community that a life following Jesus requires that one look outward to a life of service, not inward to a life of self-gratification.

This takes us to our Gospel.  As we start the new Liturgical Year our Sunday Lectionary (the book of readings selected for all Masses) goes back to Cycle A with an emphasis on the Gospel of Matthew.  This week's passage gives us a very vivid image of the Judgment Day.  Matthew, who's audience was primarily Jewish, makes use of the stories and characters in the Hebrew scripture not only in to help them draw a connection to Jesus with the stories and traditions that are part of their cultural identity, but to also show them that Jesus is indeed the Messiah... the chosen one foretold by the prophets.  In today's Gospel he draws on the memory of the story of Noah, asking them to remember what a terrible day it was when the flood came and why.  Jesus is warning his disciples that such dark times could come again for those who are not prepared for his return.  Those who do not "stay awake" and live their lives for God are at risk of losing their souls.  It is a very challenging reading, particularly as we prepare for the Holiday season... but this is what Advent is all about... asking ourselves if we are ready for Jesus' next coming.

Final thoughts:

For as much as our secular culture has embraced the idea of “Christmas,” the fact remains that they’ve gotten it all wrong.  For our secular culture the “Christmas Season” begins the day after Thanksgiving with “Black Friday...”  with everyone rushing around shopping and preparing for holiday gatherings.  All too often all this creates feelings of stress and anxiety culminating with Christmas Day, after which they can relax and put everything away.  Brothers and sisters, that’s not us.

This isn’t the “Christmas Season” for us.  Right now, this is Advent.  A time for prayerful reflection.  A time to examine our souls and ask ourselves if we’re ready to meet the Lord when he comes again.  A time for us to slow down and reflect.  For us the Christmas season doesn’t start until December 25th, with a celebration of the commemoration of Jesus’ birth, and carries us through the New Year and all the way to Epiphany on January 8th… so don’t you dare start putting away those decorations on December 26th.

Christianity has always been counter-cultural.  We walk to a different beat… the heart of the Lord.  So why not try these ideas:
  • Celebrate Thanksgiving in all its fullness.  Thanksgiving, after all, is what lies at the heart of the Mass.  Go to Thanksgiving Day Mass.  Celebrate with family and friends.  Eat well and offer thanks to God for his blessings on us.  More and more this celebration gets marginalized, seen not so much as a chance to take time off with family, but marks the starting line of the shopping season.  Instead, avoid the stores, and spend it with loved ones.
  • Don’t rush into the Christmas decorating.  There is no rule that says you need to turn your home into a winter wonderland overnight.  Prior to World War II and Vatican II most Catholic families didn’t put up their Christmas trees until Christmas Eve… after the Advent wreath was put away.  Advent is a time of preparation, so use the full 4 weeks of Advent to slowly bring your home into the Christmas season.  For example, it’s my family’s tradition to wait until the 3rd Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) to get our Christmas tree.
  • Celebrate the Christmas Season to the fullest.  Go to a Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve or at Midnight.  Keep those decorations up all the way through Epiphany.  Use the time off to visit with family and friends.  Don’t think of Christmas as one day that needs to go off perfectly, but think of it as a series of gatherings, over a few weeks, allowing you to spend time with those you love.
Preparation for Christmas doesn’t mean shopping and planning parties.  Preparation for Christmas means getting our spiritual house in order.  The celebration of the Nativity is a remembrance of our Lord coming into our world, as well as a reminder that he will be coming back.  So take a moment to put aside the commercial aspects of our culture and consider if you’re ready to meet our Lord when he comes again.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Monday Morning Quarterbacking - Christ the King

Monday morning quarterbacking.  That long standing tradition during football season where people gather around the water-cooler on the Monday after the big game that weekend to provide their own analysis of the outcome.  Why not do that with Church?  So, here we go... Christ the King.

Now first I have to admit that the solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe happens to be one of my favorite feast days.  Not only does it give a regal close to our Liturgical year, but it stands as a testament to the truth behind the journey we've been on for this entire Liturgical year:  That it is God who is above all others, and all of us others are equal to no one else but God.

This isn't a new idea.  In fact, it is a pretty consistent theme throughout all of scripture, and it is in those moments when we forget this lesson that we find ourselves, as a people and as a society, getting into trouble.  We forget that God is our king, and we start elevating others into positions of authority over us.  Eventually human weakness gives way to tyranny, which sparks a revolution that itself eventually gives way to tyranny.  Such was the case when Pope Pius XI sought to refocus our attention back to Christ as our one and only king.

As I noted in my posting for this past Sunday, the world was still recovering from the first World War.  Populist revolutions were sweeping the globe, tearing down long established models of governance and economics.  Unfortunately the tyranny of the monarchs they deposed was eventually replaced with even more tyrannical governments and despots, demanding above all else allegiance to their country and their rulers.  In his 1925 encyclical letter Quas Primas, Pope Pius XI called us all to remember that above all else, it is Christ alone to whom we owe our allegiance.

During the homily for the Mass I attended, we were reminded that we needed to put Christ rightfully first in our lives.  We were reminded that there are many false gods calling us away from a healthy relationship with Christ... including wealth, celebrity, and our sense of self-importance.  That we are all equal under Christ, and we are all called to serve on behalf of Christ.  I'm sure there were many other homilies like this, but I have to wonder, how many were really listening?  How many were able to see the importance of this celebration?

Which takes me to the next section of my Monday morning quarterbacking... recognizing the truth when we hear it.  Or perhaps more accurately, recognizing the voice of God when we hear it.

When catechizing on the subject of prayer, I often tell people that if we want to hear God, we need to listen.  But here's the thing we need to recognize... we don't always know what voice, or who's voice God will use to get his message to us.  Chances are we're not going to hear God from a burning bush.  Instead, we need to be open, not only in our own heads, but to the world around us.

Take this morning, for instance.  Normally on the way to work I will be listening to NPR's Morning Edition, or when I need a break from the chatter I'll turn to Classical Music KUSC.  Every now and then, however, I just need an escape, so I'll turn to KROQ's Kevin & Bean show for some mindless humorous banter.  This morning was just such a morning...

During the 9:00 AM “Show Biz Beat” segment with Ralph Garman, Ralph was talking with Kevin and Bean about last night’s Kanye West concert in Sacramento where during the opening set, he stopped the music and went on a rant about how all these people were seemingly against him (Beyonce, Jay Z, Hillary Clinton, the media, etc.).  After his tirade he just walked off the stage, and shortly later it was announced that the remainder of his concert tour had been cancelled.  This incident got the hosts talking about Mr. West's apparent egomania, which got them talking about some larger issues.  Then the conversation turned to this:

Ralph (to Kevin and Bean):    Megalomania is running rampant in this country.  It’s like some sort of epidemic.  As if there’s a virus going… it’s the zombie apocalypse, but instead of The Walking Dead, we have "the walking arrogant."  It’s nuts!  I think we are descending into an era of self-worship that is going to be the downfall of our society.  I think we had no idea when selfies and... and social media and all that started that it would lead us down to a path of complete isolation and complete self absorption to the point where everything else is irrelevant but me and my feelings and what I want.

Bean:    I don’t think you’re exaggerating, Ralph.

Ralph:    I don’t think I am either.  I’m deadly serious about this...

Bean:    ...and when people write the history, as particularly of the 2016 election, they will say a part of the problem was that no one wanted to be exposed to anybody else or their ideas.  Everybody just wanted to stay in their own lane and screw the other guy.  And that’s partly how we ended up where we’re at.

Ralph:    ...and win at all costs:  The costs of the facts, the costs of other people, the costs of the country.  I need to win because I love me.

I was looking for some lighthearted fluff to get me through the morning commute, but somewhere along the way I heard the voice of God calling me back to our celebration of Christ the King.

Mind you, this is a very secular morning drive time show designed to give us humorous banter in-between their alternative rock playlist.  Yet when the truth comes across it's like hearing the prophet Amos railing against the kings of Israel and Judah.  This went far above party and politics (because it can be applied to both sides this past election season).  This went straight to the truth... that we have become so focused on ourselves, we have forgotten the bigger picture... that we are called to be humble and to serve one another, and that we all answer to a higher authority.

You never know when or where you might hear the voice of God.  I hope we're all listening.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The growing battle for our very souls...

I am a Catholic, and I am a catechist.  I live my faith as best I can, but I am also a person "of this world."  I have a regular, secular career that helps support my family (including their Catholic school tuition and my catechetical hobbies), and I engage in activities and relationships outside the Church.  For the most part my life in both these worlds have found a harmonious balance... that is, being able to engage in a secular society without compromising my Catholic faith.  There are times, however, where this can be a challenge, and sometimes we need to recognize that we are in a battle for our very souls.

This morning the following advertisement arrived in my email:

"Lust can be rationalized."  Think about that for a moment... "Lust can be rationalized."

I looked at this advert, and I was dumbstruck!  It stopped me in my tracks.  Once I regained my mental composure, the first thing that came to my mind was, "this is what we're up against."

Don't get me wrong... I get what the advert is trying to say.  I like cars, so it's no wonder that Jaguar would like to sell me one.  I also get the joke... of sorts... that those who long for a luxury vehicle can enter that market at a lower price-point than they might have thought.  So, I get it.  But underneath this attempt at humor is exposed the devil himself.

Even though we live in the secular world and can take advantage of its many gifts, we also need to recognize that this same society feeds on our turning away from God.  For all its good intentions, our society is unfairly balanced against those whom God taught us to protect... widows, orphans, foreigners... in essence, the poor. 

This isn't new, brothers and sisters.  Sure, we all know the Beatitudes, but this protection of the marginalized goes all the way back to Moses.  All of us in catechesis know that Jesus' greatest hits were just covers of the best of the Mosaic Law.  God's expectations of us have never changed, Jesus just made it simpler for us to understand:  Love God.  Love one another.  From 10 Commandments down to 2.  But I digress...

Our society today thrives on feeding our desires.  Not so much for those desires that are noble and selfless (though our society does give a grudging respect for those things), but more for those that are selfish, wanton, and base.  We are shown things like luxury cars and then are convinced that "we deserve it."  We covet financial and social success and epitomize those who have achieved it, even willing to overlook how in achieving that success (or perhaps because of it) they have taken advantage of or even abused others to get there.  We are taught to measure success by how much money someone has made or how much celebrity they've achieved instead of what they've done for others.

To make matters worse, this particular advert shows up in what our society has dubbed the "holiday season."  What was once a minor Christian celebration of our Lord's birth has been co-opted and mutated into something that is commercial, secular, and unrecognizable.  Even now, before we've had a chance to celebrate Thanksgiving, the radio is playing Christmas music, decorations are going up, and retailers are lining up to sell us whatever they've convinced us we need to have.  Secular Christmas bears little resemblance to our Advent expectations for the second coming of Christ.  And don't get me started about those who pack-up all the decorations on December 26th... when we Catholics are technically just beginning the celebration of this 12 day long (give or take) Christmas season.

Again, don't get me wrong... I enjoy the holiday season, even if our secular brothers and sisters haven't gotten it quite right.  The challenge for us is to learn how to recognize the devil, and when we see him, to fight against him.  And he can be so prevalent during the holiday season!

For me the advert above serves as a notice to all of us who profess a faith in Christ.  Lust cannot be rationalized.  It should not be rationalized.  To even contemplate that it can invites us down a path that leads us away from God.  Mind you, I'm not an absolutist by any measure... I fully understand what Pope Francis said several weeks ago when he was teaching seminarians and young priests that they needed to recognize that our lives (the lives of those whom they are called to shepherd) are lived "in the middle."  That gray area between right and wrong.  I'm always teaching my adult candidates and catechumens that my job as a catechist is to give you the tools to help you "navigate the gray."  We know what's right, we know what's wrong.  But our lives are not black and white.

God meets us where we're at, and we're given the opportunity to follow.  Similarly, however, the Devil meets us where we're at, and tries to lead us down his path.  And our society has so many options to meet the devil and have him lead us astray.  I'm not saying you shouldn't buy a Jaguar or other luxury cars or other luxury items if you can afford them.  But I am reminding everyone that they need to keep everything in perspective.  If you're lusting for a luxury car... you need to check that lust at the confessional door.  There are so many other things that are more important.  All our actions, both in the secular world and in our religious lives need to reflect the priorities that Christ taught us:  Love one another.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

This Sunday we close our Liturgical Year with the Solemnity of Christ the King.  I can think of no better time than now, especially after such a divisive election season, for us to remember that it is only in Jesus Christ to whom we owe our allegiance.  This celebration was created in response to the growing nationalism and secularism of the early 20th century.  It was Pope Pius XI who instituted this feast in his 1925 encyclical letter Quas Primas.  At the time the world was still recovering from the first World War while revolutions in Russia, China, and Spain were sparking continued unrest.  All over the world citizens were calling into question the their models of governance and economics.  It would seem today the world is in similar turmoil, calling us once again to recognize that above all else, we serve Christ.

2 Samuel 5:1-3
Psalm 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5
Colossians 1-12-20
Luke 23:35-43

Our first reading from 2 Samuel where we hear of Israel’s anointing of David as their king.  As we read this particular passage in the context of Christ the King, our focus shouldn’t be so much on David as is it should be on the connection of Jesus to the House of David.  The prophecy has been that the deliverer, the messiah, would come from the house of David.  This connection then makes Jesus a legitimate heir to the throne and brings God’s promise full circle.  This emphasis on the “House” of David is mirrored in our Psalm as we sing “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.”

That vision of kingship continues with our second reading as Paul explains to the Colossians an understanding of sacred authority.  The people of that early church struggled with the idea of “who was in charge.”  It’s an issue we face regularly in our human experience.  Rather than claim himself, or any of the Apostles as leaders of the Church, Paul refocuses our attention to the fact that it is Jesus to whom we owe our allegiance… it is Jesus whom we follow as our one and only king.

We turn then to our  Gospel which will be our final visit from Luke for some time.  In this Sunday’s passage he gives witness to Jesus on the cross.  Hardly an image of kingship.  It is in that moment we are reminded his Heavenly throne came at a cost, but was through his suffering, death, and resurrection that God gave Jesus dominion over the earth (and indeed the Universe).

Final thoughts:
The early 20th century brought with it both great advances and great turmoil.  The industrial revolution shifted the world’s economy from agriculture to industry, bringing with it both horrendous working conditions and marvelous advances in international trade and travel.  I look at those times and reflect on how our early 21st century shares a lot in common.  The birth of the digital age brings with it many of the opportunities and pitfalls of the industrial age.  Today’s division between rich and poor are driving populist and nationalistic movements not unlike those seen 100 years ago.

I think Pope Francis, in his wisdom, saw much of this turmoil growing, so to help re-center the people of God, he declared the Jubilee Year of Mercy as a reminder that we need to approach each other as Jesus would: with love, mercy, and forgiveness.  And now that the Jubilee year is coming to a close, and those special pilgrimage churches will be closing their Jubilee doors, this celebration of Christ the King serves as an important reminder to continue in that mission of mercy as we recognize Christ as the one true King.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

As we near the end of our Liturgical year, our readings take us to “the end of days.”  Jesus is in Jerusalem and he knows the end is near.  Our readings this week remind us that even in the face of adversity we must persevere if we are to gain eternal life:

Malachi 3:19-20a
Psalm 98:5-6, 7-8, 9
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
Luke 21:5-19

We open with a reading from the prophet Malachi, who’s name literally means “my messenger” in Hebrew because the author feared retribution.  In this short passage the prophet gives us a view of post Exile Jerusalem, dating to around 445 BCE (around the same time as the Prophet Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem).  Here the prophet warns what will become of “evildoers” while there will be justice for those who “fear the Lord”.  This was a time of great spiritual upheaval in Jerusalem.  God loves his people, but the prophet finds that love is not being reciprocated.  It’s been almost 100 years since the joyful return from Exile, and the populace has forgotten what it means to “serve the Lord.”  Malachi message is a harsh reminder of what can happen when one turns away from God.  Our Psalm offers support to those struggling to keep true to God as we sing, “The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice.”  That even in the face of adversity, our loyalty to the Lord will not go unrewarded.

Our second reading from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians explains how everyone should earn their keep, using their own time with them as an example.  Though not directly tied to our theme, the idea of justice still rings true here:  there’s no such thing as a free ride.  A community depends on everyone doing their fair share with all due civility toward each other.  Paul finds that he must remind some of those in Thessalonica that they would do better attending to their own chores rather than minding the business of others.

Our gospel from Luke then gives us a rather pessimistic (but all too true) picture of what is to come.  Picking up the narrative a short time after last week’s gospel (with Jesus being questioned by the Sadducees about the resurrection) we have Jesus standing with a group of people as they admire the richness of the decor of the Temple.  Jesus then turns and says that “all you see here” will be destroyed.  It’s a dire warning describing dire times to come.  His warning is a cautionary tale, both for his contemporaries and for all subsequent ages.  We know that at the time of the writing of this Gospel that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple is a matter of history, so this story serves to reinforce the truth Jesus spoke at the time.  But stories like this, similar to those from the book of Revelation, are meant to tell the people that while all signs point to hard times ahead, eternal salvation still remains for those who stay true to the Lord.  And while these authors were focusing on specific moments in history (the fall of Jerusalem, the fall of Rome), these stories also speak to a much larger reality:  That none of this will last forever.  The people in our gospel were marveling at the beauty of the stones in the Temple, but Jesus was reminding them that none of this would last forever.  That even the mighty stones of the Temple would be thrown down.  Everything we build here on earth will eventually be torn down, be it through gentrification, civil unrest, terrorism, natural disaster, or the decay brought on through the passage of time.  Even our very lives here on earth are temporary, and there will be times when our loyalty to the Lord will be tested.  But this isn’t meant to frighten us so much as it is meant to give us hope.  Jesus says, “By your perseverance you will secure your lives, ”  reflecting what we heard from the prophet Malachi as he said “there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays” for those who follow the Lord.

Final thoughts:

It never fails… whenever there is some kind of trouble in the world there will always the prophets of doom to tell us these events are a sign of the “end times.”  And some of them can be pretty convincing, often praying on our ignorance of scripture and our natural fear responses to convince us to give ourselves (and our money) over to their ministry, all in the name of Christ, of course.  Mind you, these wayward brothers and sisters learned from the best, as our own Catholic tradition once used this same sort of fear as a method of conversion and obedience.  To those critics I like to call their attention to 1 Corinthians 13:11

“When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child;
when I became a man, I put aside childish things."

I like to think that our Catholic faith tradition has grown past the gospel of fear and embraced the reality of God’s love and mercy.  We’ve learned to read and understand the scriptures.  We’ve seen empires rise and fall yet the Holy Spirit still holds us together.  We seen history seeming to repeat itself over and over with growing devastation yet we can still count on God’s love when we turn to him and live our lives as Christ taught us.  But while we’re no longer ruled by fear, we still need to keep ourselves spiritually prepared for hard times when they come, but if we stay true to the Lord, he will see us through and grant us eternal justice.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

The afterlife.  The Apostles Creed teaches that we believe “in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.”  The Nicene Creed substantiates that belief when we profess that we “look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”  These beliefs are integral to our understanding of God and the nature of our souls, but yet we still can have some doubts.  Our readings this week help us to lay some of those doubts to rest:

2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
Psalm 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15
2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
Luke 20:27-38 or Luke 20:27, 34-38

Our first reading is a from 2 Maccabees, a book written about 100-150 years before Christ.  This week’s passage tells the story of a Hebrew family being tortured and killed by their Greek Seleucid overlords.  The reading shows their valiant desire to keep God’s law, which in itself is noble, But that’s not the point of the story.  Yes, being willing to die for one’s faith is a powerful story of courage amid adversity, but what is it that helps them to find that strength?  According  to the text, it is the promise of resurrection… that there is a better life awaiting us after this one.  Our Psalm reflects the adversity faced by this family at the hands of their tormentors, yet their trust the Lord will hear their cry as we sing, “Lord, when you r glory appears, my joy will be full.”

Our gospel from Luke continues with this subject of the afterlife.  For the past few months we’ve been traveling with Jesus as he makes his long journey to Jerusalem (and his eventual crucifixion).  In our story this week, Jesus has finally reached the city of Jerusalem where the various factions have lined up against him and have been actively engaging him in an effort to find fault in his teaching.  In this week’s gospel it’s the Sadducees who confront Jesus wherein they try to debate him into a corner on his teachings of the afterlife (a premise not accepted by them, in contrast to the Pharisees).  Although it seems like Jesus is ducking the question, he is in fact confirming two solid beliefs… First, that God is a god of the living, not the dead, and therefore we must have life after death.  Second, that life after death is so radically different that the rules that bind us on earth simply don’t apply.

To round out our readings we continuing our journey through Paul’s 2nd letter to the Thessalonians.  Here Paul acknowledges that the parousia so anxiously awaited for has been delayed, and as such we need to continue to persevere in our Christian life.  The community has been struggling due to some false teachings they received about the “end times,” which Paul is now trying to correct.  He encourages them to find strength in the Lord which will help them guard against the evil one, and that the Lord will direct their hearts.

Final thoughts:

Our belief in the afterlife was not something that came in an instantaneous revelation.  Rather, it was an understanding that grew and evolved over time as our relationship with God grew and evolved.  Many of the great prophets eluded to the concept of life after death, but it wasn’t until the writing of the book of Maccabees that we see an established understanding of the resurrection.  In fact, by the time of Jesus, not all the different Jewish factions held this belief, and even today there are many who doubt that there is anything that awaits us after our life on earth.

We Catholics, however, have come to the understanding that our lives are much more than our corporal existence on earth.  A belief that is made clear by Jesus in the Gospels.  That the immortality of our souls has us joining with the communion of saints.  Yet like the Sadducees Jesus was conversing with in this week’s Gospel, we have a tendency to see God through the lens of our human limitations.  On the contrary, God is infinitely more than we can possibly imagine, and since we, his creations, are made in his image and likeness, we too can look forward to life everlasting.