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The Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 14, 2021

Watch this homily! (Begins at 32:15)

         We know that the Church’s year is drawing to a close when we get readings like the ones we got today. Both the reading from the Prophet Daniel and the passage from Mark’s gospel point to the end times and they do so in language we call apocalyptic – vivid, visionary, colorful, and highly poetic and symbolic. Both employ language and imagery rooted in human experience but that go well beyond human experience. In Daniel, the language is of the great tribulation where there is unsurpassed distress that leads up to the final judgment. In Mark, the coming of the Son of Man in glory is visualized in terms of a darkened sun, the moon failing to give light, stars falling from the sky, and the very powers of heaven being shaken.

     Is any of this to be taken literally? No. That’s not the nature of apocalyptic literature. The apocalyptic writers were the J. R. R. Tolkien’s or maybe the Salvador Dali’s of their day. We might say that they are closer to science fiction than to hard science. So, no literal reading, but that doesn’t mean that truth is not conveyed in all the fantastic imagery. It most certainly is. Both of those readings convey a most profound and pressing truth; namely, that the world as we know it will come to an end. This mixed-bag, mixed-up world of ours, this world of sin and selflessness, of laughter and tears, of hunger and plenty, of hovels and high-rises, of angry volcanoes and serene sunsets, of war and peace – or however we choose to describe this world of ours – this world is going to come to an end. God’s magnificent plan will one day be finally realized and the human family will share in the victory of Christ, and creation itself will be “set free from its labor pains and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God” (in the words of St. Paul in the Letter to the Romans).

     If all of this doesn’t get us thinking, stir our curiosity, and awaken our emotions, we must be asleep at the switch. Humans that we are, we are naturally curious and we ought to want to know not only that these things will take place in one way or another, but when they will take place. Is the last day tomorrow or ten years from now, or a thousand, or is it light years away? Will it happen in an instant or will it unfold over time, or will we not even know since time itself will have ceased? And the answer is: we do not know. As we heard in today’s gospel, “of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

     But, my friends, such ignorance should not immobilize us or leave us feeling entirely impotent. In fact, it should fire the engines of our hope, deepen our longing, make us stand on our tiptoes, so to speak. Even though we Christians should live our lives in the now, embracing each day – each moment – as grace, as gift from God, our orientation should also be to what is to come as we look beyond the now to what will be: to the culmination of the created order and the Second Coming of Christ. That means that there is always going to be a certain tension in our lives, or there should be - a tension between the now and what is to come. As someone once put it, we must not be so heavenly-minded as to be no earthly good; but neither can we be so wedded to this world that we give little or no thought to what is to come.

     You know, I’m sure, that the last words of the entire Bible – the conclusion of the Book of Revelation – are “Come, Lord Jesus!” Those words were the frequent prayer – a kind of mantra - of the earliest Christians, the expression of their constant awareness and their deepest longing. They should be for us as, as well: “Come, Lord Jesus.” We get an echo of them every time we pray “thy kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer, and at every Mass when we hear words so familiar that we’re apt to tune them out - these words, “By the help of your mercy, may we be free from sin and safe from all distress as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.”

     My friends in Christ, it is good – it is salutary – for us to think about these things. And it is imperative that we live our lives in the light of these things. In another week we will mark the end of the Church’s year as we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, and the Sunday following that, we will begin the season of Advent, a word whose very meaning is ‘the coming.’ And there are three comings we look to: we look back to the coming of Christ at Christmas; we embrace the coming of Christ in all the ways he manifests himself to us right now during this earthly pilgrimage; and we look forward to the coming of Christ in glory at the end of time. Any way you look at it, the Christian life is all about Advent. All about the coming and the comings. Christian life is an extended Advent!

     On this particular Sunday, the Church wants us to fix our eyes on the third of those comings: Christ’s coming “in great power and glory.” But, my friends, we must not let that ultimate horizon blind us to the near horizon: to Christ’s daily comings among us – in the Breaking of the Bread, yes, and also in rags and tatters, hungry, lonely, frightened, sick, suffering. Our challenge will always be to come to the point where we recognize him in all those unlikely disguises. If we do, we will be more than prepared to meet him – and to recognize him – when he comes in glory!

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

 

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