Why are we still here?????
Have you ever thought about that? Why is it that Jesus has been so long in returning? Why hasn’t he come back to put all things to their proper conclusion? Why do we still have wars being fought all over the earth? Why is there still crime in our cities? Why is there still terror, and death, and sadness, and pain? Why do our loved ones still suffer illness? Why do relationships still break down and why do people still hurt one another? Why can’t God just wrap things up and put an end to all this nonsense? Why can’t we all go home to be with our Lord and our loved ones?
If you relate to those questions, then you probably can relate to the readings that we have from the prophet Daniel and from Mark’s Gospel today. These are what we call “apocalyptic writings” which are usually written to give people hope in the midst of very hard times. So you can see why they would be so important to us today. Because we have hard times of our own, don’t we? I would venture to guess that everyone sitting here is either affected in some way by the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn, or else they know someone who is. Judging from the number of funerals we have had here lately, I would say that a lot of you have lost loved ones recently, or know about someone who has. And that’s to say nothing of the day-to-day stuff like relationships ending, family difficulties, and the darkness of our own sin.
When these things confront us, who among us wouldn’t call to mind the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel? “The sun will be darkened,” he says, “and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” It often seems like our whole world is falling apart, and we are desperately looking for some sign of hope.
They are hard readings today, really kind of dark in nature. They remind me of the darkness of the days that we have at the end of the year. The sun sets a lot earlier than it did, and the skies are often cloudy. It’s a darkness we can almost feel, especially when you add in the colder weather, and these readings that we have at the end of our liturgical year really echo that sentiment for me.
But I think that’s the point. Some fundamentalist folks have spent the greater part of their lives trying to figure out when all these things would take place. They want a precise day and time when the end will come, they want to match up the events and prophecy of Scripture to events that are happening now, or have happened in the recent past. And they sometimes tell us they have figured it out, only to have the time come and go, and they have to return to their lives, if they can. But that’s not how any of this works; these readings aren’t supposed to be a roadmap. They are supposed to accompany us when our lives are as dark as the coming winter nights. The message they give us is one of hope. No, we will not be spared the disappointments, frustrations, and sadness that can sometimes come in our lives, but we never ever have to go through them alone.
God will be with us. He will, as the Gospel tells us, “gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.” As the prophet Daniel tells us, “At that time [God’s] people shall escape, everyone who is found written in the book.”
And so, friends, I think that is why we are here today. That’s why we are still here. We are here to allow God to gather his elect, and we are here to help him do that. That is why the Church actively pursues evangelization and welcomes people into the Catholic faith. To that end, we have several adults and young people in our Order of Catechumens. Catechumens are those being instructed in the ways of the faith. This pertains specifically to those not baptized. At the Easter Vigil Mass, they will receive all three of the Sacraments of Initiation: baptism, confirmation and first Eucharist.
If we take the readings today seriously, and I think we should, then these efforts are simply a nice start. We know that one day, we won’t still be here, that Jesus will return to complete all things and initiate the reign of God’s kingdom. And we want everyone to be there. In many ways, we cannot any of us go if we all don’t go. It’s not just “me and Jesus.” Salvation is not an individual thing, it’s something we all receive together. And that’s why we have the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. That’s why we actively reach out to those not among us and call them to communion with us. We need to gather up all God’s people so that, one day, we can all be seated around the banquet of God’s people in heaven.
So back to my first question, then. Why are we still here? Well, we’re still here because there is work still to be done. There are many more people to gather from the four winds so that their names can be written in the book of life. God is still working salvation among us; we need to cooperate with that saving work. It’s not going to be easy, and some days may seem oppressively dark, but we are never alone. Heaven and earth might pass away, but God’s word is forever.