Friday of the Thirty-second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So many religious people tend to get concerned about the end of time.  Some years ago, there was a serious of books called Left Behind, and a couple of movies made from them.  The premise was that Jesus returned to take all the faithful people home, and “left behind” everyone else.  It’s a notion known as the rapture, which is not taught by the Catholic Church, because it was never revealed in Scripture or Tradition.  In fact, no Christian denomination taught this until the late nineteenth century, so despite being a popular notion, at least among those who clamored after that series of books, it is not an authentic teaching.

I mention this because you might hear today’s Gospel and think of the rapture.  But Jesus is really talking about the final judgment, which we hear of often in the readings during these waning days of the Church year.  In the final judgment, we will all come before the Lord, both as nations and as individuals.  Here those who have made a decision to respond to God’s gifts of love and grace will be saved, and those who have rejected these gifts will be left to their own devices, left to live outside God’s presence for eternity.

So concern about when this will happen – which Jesus tells us nobody knows – is a waste of time.  Instead, we have to be concerned about responding to God’s gift and call in the here-and-now.  John tells us how to do that in today’s first reading: “Let us love one another.”  This is not, as he points out, a new commandment; indeed, Jesus commanded this very clearly, and pointed out that love of God and neighbor is the way that we can be sure that we are living all of the law and the prophets.

The day of our Lord’s return will indeed take us all by surprise.  We’ll all be doing what we do; let’s just pray that we’re all doing what we’re supposed to do: love one another.

Our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe

Today’s readings

I think this Gospel reading is wonderful because of the rather vivid picture that it paints. When I hear it, I can’t help but picture the king separating the sheep from the goats, making known their good works, or lack thereof, and ushering them into their version of eternity. It would seem that the moral of the story is very clear: we are all put here to do some very important things for the Kingdom of God; we are called to use our time and talent to serve those in need. These are the corporal works of mercy, and we should all certainly know them and do them. They aren’t mere suggestions, they are, apparently, the way that we get into heaven.

And that would be a very good message, but I think Jesus is going for something else because that message would be a good one any time of the year. So, the question we have to ask ourselves is why this message at this point of the Church year? And perhaps just as poignantly, why this message so close to the end of Jesus’ life? This reading comes from the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, which is just twenty-eight chapters long. Indeed, in the very next chapter, Judas begins to conspire against Jesus. So here at the end of Jesus’ life, and on the very last Sunday of the Church year, why this particular parable?

Well, we don’t have to look very far for the answer. The very setting itself tells us what Jesus was getting at: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory…” So this is clearly a prediction of the end of time, particularly the day of judgment. And I think this setting makes that vivid picture even more vivid. Here our Lord has all of his creatures before him, and he begins to separate them out. There are two places that one might go: the kingdom or eternal fire.

I think we all know what line we’re supposed to get into. But just in case there was any doubt, the Gospel makes it very clear. The kingdom, he says, was “prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” For you. The eternal fire, on the other hand, was “prepared for the devil and his angels.” So not for you. And this echoes a truth that has been preached all along the way of this Church year. We were made for heaven, heaven is our true home, and we are just passing through this place.

But just because the kingdom was prepared for us doesn’t mean we can’t make the wrong choice. The devil and his angels have already made their choice, and they’re hoping to take as many of us with them as they can. They do that by convincing us that we can live our lives any way we choose. They try to convince us that morality isn’t really objective, that anything is okay as long as it works for me. What they want us to say is that we are in charge, that there isn’t any God. They want us to choose life outside the Kingdom of God – you know, that kingdom that was prepared for us from the foundation of the world.

And we can choose that if we want to, but it will be a lonely place, with more than our share of sadness. To get to the real Kingdom, all we have to do is to accept the wonderful sheep and shepherd imagery that we have in today’s readings. In our first reading, Ezekiel portrays our God as a shepherd who goes out of his way to seek out and save the ones who are lost. This is a shepherd who wants to heal our brokenness and make us fit for the Kingdom of God. In just the same way, the sheep who are destined for the Kingdom might recognize the Son of Man throughout the Church year and throughout the Gospel and respond to his call to live for the Kingdom and not just for today, to care about others and love as we have been loved, and let that Love take us to our rightful place.

Today, on the last Sunday of the Church year, we celebrate Our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe. We proclaim boldly that our Jesus is King of kings and Lord of Lords and there is absolutely no other. We profess that one way of life isn’t just as good as another, that there is only One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life and that is our Lord Jesus Christ. He is King of the Universe and King of our hearts and our lives. When we make the right choice to follow our King and do what he has commanded, we can follow him to that Kingdom that was prepared for us from the foundation of the world.

The Fifth Sunday of Easter [A]

Today’s readings

I can see by your attendance here today that you were not caught up in the rapture last night.

I bring this up not so much to poke fun at those who mistakenly predict the end of days, but rather to use this occasion to talk about exactly what we Catholics believe about the end times.  I think at some level all of us want to know when the end is coming and what it will look like.  We don’t get a clear roadmap of that, for reasons I’ll discuss later, but we do have some theology around the issue.

Whenever we want to know what we believe about something, the first places we should look are in the scriptures and in the Liturgy.  So I’ll start with the Liturgy, and point out the scriptures along the way.  The Nicene-Constantinople Creed, which we pray each Sunday and Solemnity, includes two statements of belief about the end of time.  The first comes at the end of what we believe about Jesus Christ.  It says:

He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

The second statement comes at the very end of the Creed, in the part that summarizes our belief about the Church, the sacraments and eternal life:

… and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come.

So the Creed gives us five pieces of information about the end times.  First, Jesus will come again in glory.  In our Gospel today, Jesus tells us: “I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be…”  In his glorious return, Jesus will make manifest his kingdom in heaven and on earth, and all those who have believed in him will be taken to himself.

Second, Jesus will judge the living and the dead.  Recall the scripture about the sheep and the goats, Matthew 25:31-46, in which those who have ministered to Christ made manifest in the poor and lowly of the world will inherit eternal life, and those who have failed to do so inherit eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  We believe that it is our responsibility to live the Gospel and a failure to do so manifests a rejection of Christ that is a choice to live in torment, distanced from God in eternity just as was done in life.

Third, we believe that when Christ returns, his kingdom will be everlasting.  The devil may well appear to hold sway in our own time, and all it takes is a glance at the news to confirm this.  But when Christ returns, all will be made new, as we read in the book of Revelation, chapter 21 (1-4): “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband…”

Fourth, there will be a resurrection of the dead.  We believe that because of the death and resurrection of Christ, death is not the end for us.  Those who die before Christ returns will be raised up to participate in the new, everlasting kingdom.  Saint Paul tells us in his first letter to the Thessalonians (4:13-14), “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”

And finally, we believe in eternal life.  In today’s gospel, Jesus says: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?”  So we know that heaven is a place where we are to go, once we have been purified by death, and possibly purgatory (but that’s another whole homily!).  Eternal life is a life of joy in heaven forever.

Getting back to the news of the last few days, in which Harold Camping of FamilyRadio.com predicted a rapture and the beginning of the end yesterday at 6pm local time, I would like to say two things.  First, you’ll notice that I didn’t discuss in the five points I just made a belief in the rapture.  That’s because there isn’t such a thing.  Those who believe in a rapture claim that prior to the great tribulations which will precede the end times, those who have believed in Christ will be taken up, leaving everyone else “left behind.”  That belief led to a whole series of popular books in the last decade.  While the tribulations that precede the end were foretold by Jesus, a rapture was not.  It wasn’t until the 1800s that some American fundamentalists really defined and pushed that belief.  The Catholic Church has never acknowledged a rapture, it has never been revealed in Scripture or authentic Tradition, so we can dismiss it.

Second, a lot of people waste a lot of time trying to calculate the end of it all.  Mr. Camping calculated that May 21st would be the end.  I won’t get into how he got there, because I think the failure of it dictates that it not be given much attention, and if you really want to know, there’s a lot on the internet you can find about that.  I will say that he previously predicted that the end would come in 1994, based on the same information, and claimed it didn’t come to pass due to a mathematical error on his part.

What I have to say about this is based on what Jesus tells us in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 24, verse 36: “But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”  I think that’s pretty clear: nobody gets that big picture except God the Father, so it’s extremely presumptuous to think we could ever figure it out.  Shame on us if we waste our time trying.

So what do we do with all this?  Should we be prepared for the end of the world?  I would say absolutely yes, and always.  Going back to First Thessalonians (5:2), Saint Paul tells us, “For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.”  Since we don’t know when the end will come, but are positive that there will indeed be an end, we need to be always prepared.  That preparation should be that we continue to nurture our relationship with God by participating regularly in the sacraments, and immersing ourselves in prayer and reading of the sacred scriptures.  It also includes living the Gospel: finding Christ in the poor and needy and extending ourselves to lighten their load.  It means proclaiming the word by the lives that we lead and the words that we speak.  It means bringing everyone we can find with us to the kingdom.

There’s a lot at stake in our Scriptures today.  There is a world that needs to know Jesus so that they too can know the Father and experience the joy of a real home.  There is a world that needs to know the touch of Jesus so that they can be healed and strengthened for life’s journey.  There is a world that needs to hear the Word of Jesus so that they can come to the way, the truth and the life.  It’s on us now, none of us can be passive observers or consumers only.  As St. Peter says today, we “are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that [we] may announce the praises’ of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  We are not home yet, but we can get there through our Jesus, our way, our truth, and our life.

As Saint Benedict says, “And may He bring us all together to life everlasting.” (Rule of St. Benedict, 72)