Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2012
As we reach the end of the liturgical year, it is our Catholic tradition to spend these days reflecting on the end times. It’s kind of strange territory, this apocalyptic terrain. The prophetic books of the Old Testament are filled with foreign and fantastical sounding images: strange animals with different parts, all these symbolic numbers, countless types of angels swirling around, heavenly hosts and trumpets sound, all kinds of things seem to be going on in the clouds and in the heavens - the whole scene seems very surreal. Jesus’ teaching does little to dispel the mystery and fearsome quality of these last days, telling us of great tribulations, cosmic shifts, the heavens being shaken, and angelic hosts swiftly carrying out the commands of the Son of Man who has come to bring justice and peace to this world. On many occasions Jesus warned his disciples that the end will come upon us like a thief in the night, when we least expect, and that many, many people will be terrified and entirely overwhelmed by the experience. They will be in utter shock, caught as if sleeping. This teaching of Christ about the end times, which is echoed by St. Paul and the early fathers of the Church, is too consistent and insistent for us to simply acknowledge it with a vague notion that we should live each day as if it were our last.
That would be like hearing an air raid siren and concluding “Ah, isn’t that nice – they want us to make sure that we have a roof over our heads.” or listening to the emergency broadcast system announce a tsunami and saying “I guess I’ll wear a life jacket while I’m out fishing.” In fact, what should be disconcerting to us when we hear Christ and the apostles speak about the end times is that it seems most people will be completely unprepared.
And that doesn't seem too far fetched How many of us are confident that if all of a sudden the stars began to fall from the sky and angelic hosts swept down from heaven, even though Jesus explicitly told us this would happen, we would not be completely surprised out of our minds? “Oh my goodness! It actually is real! Like really real!” That seems to be the response that Jesus indicates many people will have: one of utter disbelief even as they see with their own eyes the truth conquering this world of shadows. They will feel as if they were waking from a dream, all of a sudden the shades will fall away and they will see that they have been dwelling in darkness – the light of Christ will be like a blinding fire that seers their eyes, their ears will ring with strange celestial sounds, and they will find themselves face to face with the living God.
In an instant, scientific laws that seemed so hard and fast will appear to be fictions; our greatest accomplishments in this world will look like projects in a child’s sandbox. Angels and Archangels and myriads of Seraphim and Cherubim will appear in a splendor and majesty that takes our breath away and makes our frail nature look like dust. And from our midst it will be the little ones, the poor, the meek, the lowly, the persecuted who will shine likes stars in the sky, revealed in their glory, their heroic battles celebrated, their great victories exalted.
We know these things, brothers and sisters – they have been revealed to us, they are not mere fictions, they are not simply convenient ways of thinking about heaven so that we are motivated to do the right thing on earth.
“We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” St. Peter wrote to the early Christians, “but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. We ourselves heard the voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
These are not cleverly devised myths, but a prophetic message that is altogether reliable. The prophet Daniel tells us this morning that when the clouds part, when the shadows are dispelled “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."
Christ brings to completion the revelation of this wisdom from above. And he sends us out as witnesses to that wisdom, to be a light to others, helping them to see beyond the phantoms and idols of this world, to see that we have been chosen in Christ to be sons and daughters of the living God and to one day receive our true inheritance, when Christ returns and gathers us into his heavenly kingdom. The Triune God dwells with us now sacramentally, in mystery, working through us to prepare all of humanity for that final consummation. The stakes are high, the work is urgent, in our efforts to be more and more personally converted to Christ each day, and also in our efforts to encourage and support conversion of heart in those who are dear to us, and in our society. In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis reflected on these last days, and I will close with his words:
“God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else - something it never entered your head to conceive - comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.”