33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 15, 2015
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 15, 2015
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
It seems almost inevitable that in any crisis,
or even when anything unusual happens in the world,
we hear some people wondering if the end is near.
16 years ago, some people were in a panic about the year 2000.
14 years ago, when terrorists struck the Pentagon and the World Trade Center,
some people spoke of a cataclysmic world war,
that would precede the end.
11 years ago it was the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean,
and 10 years ago it was Hurricane Katrina.
Today we have the wave of violent terrorism in the Middle East,
overflowing into Europe
first through mass migration of refugees,
and then on Friday the bloody terror attacks in Paris.
Not to mention, a world-wide economic and political crisis;
we mortgage our children’s future to satisfy our selfish lifestyles today; moral values, especially of our young, are quickly disappearing,
“gay marriage” has become mainstream;
abortion is a right, and even good;
and the government of the nation founded on liberty
suppresses the religious freedom of Christians.
And beyond that, now we have new turmoil in the Church,
as dissent from the teachings of Christ and 2000 years of Christian doctrine
becomes the dominant theme of many bishops and cardinals.
It seems every other day for almost the last two decades
the daily events in the world seem to trigger the question
among many people:
Are we in the end times? Is the end near?
I always have mixed feelings about all this.
First of all, in one way it’s good to have this question in mind:
As we read in today’s Gospel:
“Learn a lesson …. when you see these things happening,
know that he is near, at the gates.”
Christ wants us to be prepared and read the signs of the times.
To convert from sin, and to be ready for his 2nd coming.
On the other hand, Jesus also tells us:
“But of that day or hour, no one knows,
neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
For 2 millennia, people have been thinking the end is near
during times of dramatic societal upheaval,
and in the great emotion and fear of the moment
changed their ways and undergone remarkable conversions.
But there are problems with this.
First of all, when conversion is based on the emotion of fear,
when the cataclysmic event passes, often so does conversion.
Second, some people wind up getting so preoccupied
with looking for the prophetic signs,
that they waste a lot of time and energy on false notions of the end.
We’ve seen this recently with many Christians
who have come to believe in what they call “The Rapture”
–a false Protestant notion invented in the 1800’s
and described in the popular “Left Behind” series of books.
We also see it with a distinctly Catholic flavor,
as some Catholics start to become captivated
with twisting the private revelations of the end times:
what this Saint prophesied or what that holy person saw in a vision.
Some get so “caught up” in these kind of false or ambiguous understandings
of the end times that many become either
petrified by fear,
or preoccupied with looking for signs of evil
lurking behind every bush,
or even worse, taking their salvation for granted
because they “know” when the end is coming.
Now, I don’t mean to ridicule these folks
—many are some of the finest, sincerest and most devout people
you’d ever want to meet.
And I don’t mean to dismiss the private revelations and visions of saints.
But the thing is, people have been doing the same thing for 2000 years,
ever since the first century of the Church:
thinking that the end is immanent,
and then translating that into a preoccupation
with the details of the end times
which distracts us from living the Christian life today.
It is true that we live in difficult times.
But not necessary the end times.
Some say, “but look at the signs, they’re all around us.”
I get that.
But on the other hand, Jesus says:
“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,” Look around—I don’t see any of those things happening.
The thing is, God calls us to repent and convert,
not just at the end of time, but at all times.
Because the end has been coming for people since the time of Adam and Eve.
Not the end of the world, but the end of individuals living in the world—death.
And when the end comes through death, the dead will face the judgment of Christ
just as surely as those who are living on earth at the Second Coming.
And as our first reading says,
“some shall live forever,
others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.” For the dead, this has already happened:
they are either in heaven–or in purgatory preparing to enter heaven—
or they are in hell.
And it can happen to us, at any moment, any day.
The sun doesn’t have to darken, and the stars don’t have to fall from the sky.
And so, Christ wants us to repent and convert, every day and at every moment.
Most of us are afraid of death.
And some who wonder if we’re living in the end times, are afraid of that.
But what are we afraid of?
Listen to what happens in the end:
“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 end of the earth.” If we have faith in Christ and what he taught, what do we have to be afraid of?
Are we afraid of his promises, like the one we read in today’s first reading:
“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.”
If we have hope that we will share in those promises if we live as he taught us,
and if we have love and actually live that life he taught,
what could we be afraid of?
It is true that when the end comes there will be a time of great suffering,
especially for the Church, what Scripture calls the time of “tribulation.”
It’s also true that from time to time we experience a foretaste of this hardship.
Right from the beginning of the Church we’ve seen this
—the very day the Church was born we saw this:
God the Son was murdered on the Cross!
Then a few years later, in year 63 AD,
the Romans began to persecute the Christians
by torturing and murdering them,
beginning with St. Peter himself.
And then in the year 70 AD the Romans destroyed Jerusalem
—David’s city, God’s city—
–all of its buildings, even the Temple itself—
and all of its people, 1 million Jews and Christians.
And then it seems every few decades until 321 there was a new persecution
–why do you think that by the year 200 still only less than 1%
of the population of the Roman Empire was Christian,
and only 10 percent when the persecutions stopped in 321?
And then came the invasions of the Huns and Barbarians,
–good Lord, the Catholic Church had barely converted the Roman Empire
when the pagan and barbarian Huns and Vandals invaded.
Then 200 years later Islam began to invade like lightning,
first across northern Africa and then conquering almost all of Spain,
and the Eastern half of the Roman Empire
and eventually even invading Italy.
Then came the wars and persecutions between Protestants and Catholics.
More recently we remember the “Bloody terror” in France’s Revolution,
in which 10s of thousands of faithful Catholics,
especially priests and religious,
were killed, imprisoned or exiled.
And in the 1st half of the 20th century we remember the bloody persecution of the Church
by the Mexican Masons,
and then the Nazis in Germany,
and then, of course, the Communists in Russia, Eastern Europe,
China and Southeast Asia—Vietnam.
There is real turmoil in the world today—perhaps unprecedented, perhaps not.
But in the midst of all this, we must remain always in faith, hope and love.
There’s really no need to fear evil things that happen
—whether it’s persecutions, plagues, depressions or wars.
Because as Jesus says,
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Plan, be prudent:
but have faith and hope in his word, his promises and his commandments.
And while it’s necessary and right to fear committing sin,
and to fear giving in to the devil’s temptations,
lest we lose the joy of heaven,
and gain the “everlasting horror and disgrace” of hell, it’s wrong to fear sin as if it were inevitable,
or the devil as if he were all-powerful.
Sin is not inevitable, and the evil one is not invincible.
Not when we love Jesus by keeping His commandments,
and allow Him to love us by giving us his grace.
We must remember: there is no need to be overwhelmed by fear,
because we’re never alone.
Because, first of all, we remember that Christ promised his apostles
as he ascended into heaven:
“I am with you always, even until the end of this age.”
He is here with us: in his Word, in his Sacraments, in his grace,
and in his Church.
And where he is, there are his angels, as we read in today’s first reading:
“At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince,
guardian of your people.”
St. Michael has been around and fighting for us
since before man was even created.
And he and all his angels will be here when the final great tribulation comes.
And he has been here and will be here every minute in between.
We are living in difficult times.
It is a time to repent, and to remember that Jesus will come for us swiftly,
either when our time comes to die or when the end of time itself comes.
But be not afraid of the powers of this world,
or of the turmoil of the times
—they will most likely pass away into history.
Fear only losing your salvation.
And even then, do so with faith, hope and love in Christ.
Know that he is here always
–in his word and in his sacraments
–in his grace and in his angels.
Repent and convert,
and set your heart, minds and bodies
on the joy and glory of living and loving with Christ,
today, and forever!