Rev. Joseph Keating
33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)
As sure as the days are getting shorter, and as the end of the year approaches, so our liturgical year is coming to a close. This week begins a brief series of readings about the end-times—predictions about the end of the world and the reign of Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe.
These readings conjure up images of billboards and cardboard signs that warn “the end is near.” Perhaps you’ve seen such signs. I think also of the various televangelists who have gained followers by claiming to have figured out the date of the end of the world. False teachers such as John Hagee have constructed elaborate schemas of cherry-picked Scripture verses to back up their supposed secret knowledge. They combine numbers that were clearly meant to be symbolic and plug them into cleverly devised equations that give them, and only them, the true date of the end of the world.
There’s only one problem to this quasi-Scripture-based approach: it is manifestly contrary to Scripture. We hear the words of Jesus Christ in the gospel today, “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). That is, Jesus himself has told us clearly and unequivocally, that no one knows the date of the end of the world, not even the angels. And I highly doubt that Jesus issued this statement as a challenge to the disciples, as if to challenge them to go and try and figure it out. Rather, he exhorts them to “Be watchful, be alert! You do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:33).
Jesus says these words in the verse immediately following our gospel reading today, and I wish that it was part of the reading, because it perfectly captures the broader lesson here—we must stay vigilant until the end. Even if it’s not for us to know or to figure out when the last day will come, the important take-away is that we each must be vigilant of our own end. Whether or not we will live to see the second coming of Jesus Christ is uncertain; what is certain is that we will all face judgment when our lives on earth are thru. And just as we do not know the date of the end of the world, we don’t know our own expiration date. How many times has a cancer patient been “given three months to live” and then lived another three years or more? How many times has a terminally-ill patient been given six months to live, only to not even make it one month? We don’t know the day, and we all can’t expect to live to 90 or 100 years.
What, then, can we do? The answer is clear—get yourself into a state of grace. NOW. Don’t wait. That means going to confession. It means reconciling with estranged family members and offering forgiveness. It means coming back to Mass every Sunday, as long as illness doesn’t prevent you. Don’t roll the dice. Don’t gamble with your salvation.
I hear all the time from Catholics, “Well, Father, I haven’t been to confession in 30 years, but then again, I haven’t killed anybody.” And then I just cringe. As if murder were the only sin that would send you to hell. So, just to make it absolutely clear that ordinary people commit mortal sins too, let’s go down a list of some lesser-known mortal sins:
• Using contraception
• Getting married outside the Church
• Homosexual acts
• Sex outside of marriage
• Slander (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
• And yes, even missing Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation (CCC 2181)
These are mortal sins. And there are many more than just these. Do not approach for communion today if you are in the state of mortal sin. This, too, is a mortal sin. I am telling you this because hell is real and you really could go there if you do not repent of all mortal sins before you die. If you have committed a mortal sin, get to confession. NOW. If you have been away from confession for more than a year, get to confession. NOW.
For the Lord is coming again, and when he does, it will certainly be the end of the world. It could be today, could be tomorrow. Regardless, one day it will be the end of the world for you and for me. We must be vigilant. We must prepare for that day.
On that day, when Christ comes again, the Church will be presented to him as a spotless Bride (cf. Ephesians 5:27). And right now, brothers and sisters, the Church is far from spotless. It is increasingly difficult to say in the creed, “I believe in One, HOLY, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” Yet, we say it, and we mean it. In what sense, then, is the Church holy? The Church is holy only because Christ makes her so. He cleanses her with the sacraments of Baptism and Penance. He heals her with the Anointing of the Sick. He feeds her with his true Body and Blood in the Eucharist and strengthens her in Confirmation. The grace of Jesus Christ is what makes her holy. We need, especially in this time, to beg Christ for an outpouring of this grace and mercy upon his Church.
For those looking at the Catholic Church from the outside, especially Catholics who have wandered away from the flock, it looks like an absolute mess. They read the news and think that all priests are like the ones who have done horrible, unspeakable things. They criticize their family members in RCIA and ask, “Is this the Church you want to join? Look at what they do.” It is a scandal. Some have called it the worst scandal in the history of the American Church. It is no surprise to me, then, that our parish has no RCIA candidates this year. The sins of some members of the Body have made it all the more difficult for us to bring the light of the Gospel to our neighbors.
Many of us are outraged and upset. And in most cases, this is a righteous anger. So many of us have made a sacrifice of our own lives and have kept the faith, while so many clergy seem to have had no supernatural faith at all. So many innocent victims have been hurt, and have had their trust so severely violated that they will find it hard to ever trust again. These poor victims now have, thru no fault of their own, a twisted view of God and of fatherhood, and we must pray especially for them.
Now, in the midst of the chaos, the Evil One finds an opportune time to strike. He is tempting many to leave the Church. He may even tempt some in this parish—if not us, then certainly someone we know. What, then, is the response?
We must speak about the Church as the barque of Peter, a large boat, sailing across a vast and tempestuous ocean. If it helps, we can imagine Noah’s Ark, which was a symbol of the Church that was to come. Just as Noah’s Ark saved the righteous and the creatures from the destructive flood, so now the Church is the life raft amid the waves of this crazy world. Now, imagine that you’re a passenger on this ship, and you don’t know the first thing about sailing. Imagine also, that the captain of the ship is asleep, and the sailors have gotten into an argument among themselves, and they are fighting it out on the deck, not paying attention that the ship is being tossed violently by the waves. What do you do? Do you jump off the ship and into the sea? Of course not. Jumping off the ship is certain death. Building our own boat is out of the question—we have no materials of our own with which to build. What we must do now is what we must always do—stay on the ship. Stay connected to the sacraments. Offer a fast. Offer an act of penance for sinners. Pray, especially at home, at school, and at work. Be a witness to your faith—be “anti-scandalous.” That is, let them see a good Catholic, a holy Catholic, a faithful Catholic.
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 (Daniel 12:3).
We can still be a light to the world, and a city on a hill. We are still the Body of Christ. Even when we see our brothers and sisters walk away, even when we ourselves are tempted to walk away from the Church of Jesus Christ, he calls out to us, “Do you also want to leave?” And our response should be that of Saint Peter, who answers, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
In these times, we prepare ourselves and sanctify ourselves. We prepare to enter the promised land, the Heavenly Jerusalem. These shortened days at the close of the year are a reminder that creation is passing away. We know not the day or the hour that the Last Day will come, and so we stay awake.