Sunday, November 17, 2013

The End of the World...

33rd week of OT year C 2013:
I was away from the office most of this week on retreat.  It was a nice time of prayer and reflection.  I had a chance to pray a bit over these readings today.  Jesus sends us a dire warning about the end of the world: not a stone will be left standing.  Then when I get back from retreat, what did I see but that part of the steeple had fallen off.  I thought that perhaps the end of the world was upon us!  But, fear not, we will fix the steeple.
Still, the end of the world is upon us.  Whether it comes today or in 10,000 years, we are called to be ready for the coming of Christ.  Every week when we gather here for Mass we pray our creed that states that Christ will come again.  But, it can be quite easy for us to get a bit complacent and relaxed.  Sure, Jesus is coming again, but it’s been 2000 years, I doubt it will be today…
This is why the readings of the Mass always turn toward the end times during the last several weeks before Advent begins.  Built into our church year is a yearly reminder that we do indeed await the end of the world.  That this current world is passing away, that our hope has to be placed on Christ.  For Christians, the end of the world should not instill fear or anxiety, but joy and hope for we know that the end of this world means the coming of the new world.
Still, just thinking about the end of the world probably makes us nervous.  And, just think of some of the things Jesus mentions about the end of the world: natural disasters, we just had the horrible typhoon in the Philippines; persecutions, the US bishops just put out a statement detailing how the HHS mandate for contraception and abortion coverage is a blatant attack on our religious liberty; nations against nations: we only have to turn on the news to hear about violence, war, oppression.  Yes, indeed, things can look quite bleak.
This is why our readings today are so important.  Of course things look bleak in this world, this world is passing away.  If we put our hopes in this world we will be sorely disappointed, but we put our hope in something else.  In fact, we put our hope in someone else.  Jesus Christ is the son of God, in him we put our hope and our trust.  So in the midst of the turmoil, violence, persecution, and disasters of this world, we turn to Christ. 
Today in the gospel Jesus outlines all the many tragedies and all the violence and turmoil that will come before the end, but along the way he gives us three very interesting commands if you listen carefully.  First, he says do not be deceived by many false witnesses.  Second, do not be terrified.  Third, he says remember.
First, do not be deceived.  Don’t go crazy looking for the end times. You might see shows on TV about the end times, or hear scary stories about the end times.  Do not be deceived, stick with Christ.  Everything else causes anxiety and stress, but if we listen to Christ we will have peace.
Second, do not be terrified.  Jesus knows that thinking about the end of the world is frightening, this is why he gives us this command.  Is this an easy command?  No, this is why we need to foster a deep relationship with Christ.  He will give us the strength not to be terrified in the presence of whatever we have to face in life.

Lastly, Jesus says remember.  We have to remember the good news.  The end time is not about the turmoil that will happen.  It is not about earthquakes and floods.  The end time is about the resurrection.  It is about the kingdom of God, where justice will reign for all eternity.  This is why St. Paul tells us to work quietly.  For while the end of the world may indeed be upon us, we remember the good news and we keep following Jesus without fear. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Non Sumus Angeli

32nd Sunday of OT Year C:
As most of you know, next April Pope Francis is going to canonize both John Paul II and John XXIII.  Pope John XXIII, was a very interesting man, and he had a long term impact on the Church, since it was he who decided to call the Second Vatican Council.  He also had a warm, down-to-earth sense of humor. One time a new building had to be constructed on Vatican grounds. The architect submitted the plans to His Holiness for his inspection and approval.  Shortly afterward he returned them with three Latin words written in the margin: "Non sumus angeli", that is to say "We are not angels." The architect was quite confused by this response, until he realized that the pope had spotted a flaw in his design.  He had forgotten to include bathrooms, and since we are not angels he would have to add them in.
Non sumus angeli, we are not angels.  This is quite clear to all of us, of course.  Angels are spiritual beings who do the bidding of God.  Human beings are certainly spiritual, that is we have a spiritual component, but we are also physical.  The nature of the human being is always a composite of body and soul.  It was God who designed us this way.  And behold, he said, it is very good. Sometimes e might fall into thinking that the body is bad and only the soul is good.  So, the sooner we get rid of our bodies the better.
There are many scriptural quotes that might even support this kind of thinking.  One of these quotes is found in today’s gospel.  Jesus tells us that those who are worthy of the future kingdom will be like angels.  If we take this one line out of context we can see that it might make us think that our bodies are bad and that we will not have our bodies in the future. 
But this interpretation goes against what Jesus says just a couple of lines later when he talks about the resurrection of the dead.  Every Sunday when we gather to worship we pray our creed together, and in this creed we say that we believe in the resurrection of the body.  Jesus gives us an insight into what this future might look like.  He says that we will be like the angels; so, in some ways, it will be a spiritual existence.  But, as human beings our nature will not change, we will still have our bodies.  So, we will live an existence where our bodies and our souls are perfectly united, and it will be a spiritualized kind of existence, but we will still have bodies.  What will this be like?  I have no idea.  Because of Original Sin and the falleness of our world, we often feel the tension between body and soul.  But, in the resurrection this will not be so.  On the last day Jesus Christ will raise our mortal bodies to be like his own in glory.  God made the human body, and it is very good.  Our bodies will rise again.
Every year, during the month of November, we always take time to think about those who have gone before us.  We take time to pray for our departed loved ones, friends, and family members.  But, it is also a good time for us to renew our faith and understanding in the resurrection.  Because it is the promise of resurrection that gives us hope when we ponder the loss of those we love.  We believe and profess that death is not the end, that we will see our loved ones again.  That those beautiful people that we lay to rest will get up again.  Christians do not grieve like those with no hope, for we believe that those who sleep in Christ will rise with him on the last day.

As we celebrate this Holy Eucharist we renew our faith in the Risen Christ.  We renew our belief that Jesus died, but he also rose again. We may not be angels, but we do indeed pray that through the power of the death and resurrection of Christ all those who sleep in Christ will rise with him on the last day.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Zacchaeus

Today in the gospel we hear about the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus.  I find this to be a tremendously heart-warming encounter.  Also, I find that it explains so well both the human condition and the mentality of Jesus.
First, we have the person of Zacchaeus.  We hear that he is a chief tax collector and a wealthy man.  In Luke’s gospel this is two strikes against him.  Not only is he a tax collector, but a chief tax collector.  This means that he had the reputation of being disreputable, greedy, and even a traitor, working against the people of Israel.  This is Luke’s way of saying that he is a sinful person.  If this were Star Wars you would hear the Darth Vadar music as Zacchaeus enters the scene.  But, what we hear is quite interesting: he was seeking to see who Jesus was.  Even though he was a sinner, even though he was a tax collector, even he wanted to see who Jesus was.  No matter who we are, no matter what our background, saint or sinner, there is an innate desire for God.  Every human being on earth, whether they will acknowledge it or not, desires to know Jesus.  The Catechism puts it this way: “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because everyone is created by God and for God… Only in God will the human person find the truth and happiness he/she never stops searching for.”  From a worldly point of view, Zacchaeus has it all.  Why would he venture forth from his life of wealth and seeming security?  He wants to see Jesus.
You get the feeling from the story that Zacchaeus didn’t really have any great conversion story, it just says that he wanted to see who Jesus was, but that simple act had profound consequences: Jesus decide to come stay with him.  Through this simple experience of being with Jesus, his whole life is changed: half of his possession to the poor and a promise to make amends for his past sins.  By spending this time with Jesus he found something that was more fulfilling than his life of greed and wealth.  He found something so beautiful, convincing, and persuasive in the person of Jesus that his life was changed forever.  How many of us can say the same thing?  Isn’t that why we are here today?  We come here to Mass because we want to see Jesus, we have spent time with him, and we find in him the answer to the question at the very heart of the human person: why am I here?  We were made by God and we will only find happiness in God.
Here is where it is helpful for us to think about Jesus’ role in the story.  We were indeed made by God, for God; but, long ago we lost our way.  Our first parents turned away from God, and all of human history is now full of men and women searching for a way to fulfill the deepest longings of our hearts.  Many have tried various means to find truth and happiness: power, pleasure, wealthy, comfort.  While any of these things might be good, they don’t bring us that ultimate satisfaction for which we long.  But, God made us for himself, and even after we sin and wander far from him, he loves us all the more.  Jesus says today: the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.  Again the Catechism has a wonderful statement: God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created the human person to make us share in his own blessed life.  For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to humanity.  Jesus Christ came to earth precisely to find Zacchaeus, to find us, to search for sinners. 

The story of the gospel is really a love story.  God loved us in our creation, he continued to love us even after sin by sending Jesus, who showed us forever the extent of his love when he handed over his life for us and for our salvation.  And now we get to enter into that love and participate in it all again here as we celebrate this Holy Eucharist.  Every time we celebrate the Holy Mass the story of Zacchaeus happens all over again, we come here because we want to see Jesus, and Jesus comes in search of us because he came to seek and to save what was lost.