The first reading was Daniel 12:1-3:
In those days, I Daniel, heard this word of the Lord: "At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people; it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time. At that time your people shall escape, everyone who is found written in the book.
“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace. “But 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."
As an aside, this is one of the only clear references to Hell - or even a Heaven with souls in it - found in the Old Testament. The Gospel reading was Mark 13:24-32:
Jesus said to his disciples:"In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, 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.This passage, taken from the Olivet Discourse, has been the source of much confusion for Dispensationalists. Here's Father's take on it.
And then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.
Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 14-15, 2009
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Mary Catholic Church, Alexandria, Va.
It seems almost inevitable that in any crisis, or even when anything unusual happens in the world, we hear some people wondering if the end is near. 10 years ago, some people were in a panic about the year 2000. 8 years ago, when terrorists struck the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, some people spoke of a cataclysmic world war, that would precede the end. 5 years ago it was the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean, and 4 years ago it was Hurricane Katrina. Today we’re worried about a world-wide economic and political crisis. It seems every other day for the last few years the daily events in the world seem to trigger the question among many people: Are we in the end times? Is the end near?
I always have mixed feelings about all this. First of all, in one way it’s good to have this question in mind: As we read in today’s Gospel: "Learn a lesson ….when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates.” Christ wants us to be prepared and read the signs of the times. To convert from sin, and to be ready for his coming.
On the other hand, Jesus also tells us: “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." For 2 millennia, people have been thinking the end is near, during times of dramatic societal upheaval, and in the great emotion and fear of the moment changed their ways and undergone remarkable conversions. But there are problems with this.
First of all, when conversion is based on the emotion of fear, when the cataclysmic event passes, often so does conversion. Second, some people wind up getting so preoccupied with looking for the prophetic signs, that they waste a lot of time and energy on false notions of the end. We’ve seen this recently with many Christians who have come to believe in what they call “The Rapture” --a notion invented in the 1800’s and described in the popular “Left Behind” series of books. Some get so, if you pardon the expression, “caught up” in this false understanding of the end times that many become either petrified by fear, or preoccupied with looking for signs of evil lurking behind every bush, or even worse, taking their salvation for granted because they “know” when the end is coming. Now, I don’t mean to ridicule these folks —many are some of the finest, most sincere and devout people you’d ever want to meet. But this is just a modern example of what’s happened for 2000 years, where a preoccupation with the details of the end times distracts us from living the Christian life today.
It is true that we live in difficult times. But not necessary the end times. Some say, “but look at the signs, they’re all around us.” The great wars, the fear, the natural disasters, the reconstitution of the state of Israel, the global war on terrorism, the crumbling of great economic institutions, and world wide recession. But on the other hand, Jesus says: “In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky,” Look around—I don’t see any of those things happening.
The thing is, God calls us, in every age, to repent and convert, not just at the end of time, but at all times. Because the end has been coming for people since the time of Adam and Eve. Not the end of the world, but the end of individuals living in the world—death. And when the end comes through death, the dead will face Christ just as surely as those who are living on earth at the Second Coming. And as our first reading says, “some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.” For the dead, this has already happened: they are either in heaven--or in purgatory preparing to enter heaven— or they are in hell. And it can happened to us, at any moment, any day. The sun doesn’t have to darken, and the stars don’t have to fall from the sky. And so, Christ wants us to repent and convert, every day and at every moment.
Most of us are afraid of death. And some who wonder if we’re living in the end times, are afraid of that. But what are we afraid of? Listen to what happens in the end: "And then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect …from the end of the earth.” If we have faith in Christ and what he taught, what do we have to be afraid of? Are we afraid of his promises, like the one we read in today’s first reading: “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."
If we have hope that we will share in those promises if we live as he taught us, and if we have love and actually live that life he taught, what could we be afraid of?
It is true that when the end comes there will be a time of great suffering, what Scripture calls the time of “tribulation.” It’s also true that from time to time we experience a foretaste of this hardship. Right from the beginning of the Church we’ve seen this —the very day the Church was born we saw this: God the Son was murdered on the Cross! Then a few years later, in year 63 AD, the Romans began to persecute the Christians by torturing and murdering them, beginning with St. Peter himself. And then in the year 70 AD the Romans destroyed Jerusalem —David’s city, God’s city— all of its buildings, even the Temple itself— and all of its people, 1 million Jews and Christians.
And then it seems every few decades until 321 there was a new persecution. And then came the invasions of the Huns and Barbarians, and then the Turks and Islam, and then wars and persecutions between Protestants and Catholics, Not to mention the terrible natural disasters:
the plagues of the middle ages that wiped out a 1/3 of the population of Europe. And then what about the economic disasters and wars of the first part of the last century. And what about the current rise of decadence …and the increase of persecution of those who cling to Gospel values?
There is real turmoil in the world today—perhaps unprecedented, perhaps not. But in the midst of all this, we must remain always in faith, hope and love. There’s really no need to fear evil things that happen —whether it’s persecutions, plagues, or wars. Because as Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Plan, be prudent: but have faith and hope in his word, his promises and his commandments.
And while it’s necessary and right to fear committing sin, and to fear giving in to devil’s temptations, lest we loose the joy of heaven, and gain the “everlasting horror and disgrace” of hell, it’s wrong to fear sin as if it were inevitable, or the devil as if he were all-powerful. Sin is not inevitable, and the evil one is not invincible. Not when we love Jesus by keeping His commandments, and allow Him to love us by giving us his grace.
We must remember: there is no need to be overwhelmed by fear, because we’re never alone. Because, first of all, we remember that Christ promised his apostles as he ascended into heaven: “I am with you always, even until the end of this age.” He is here with us: in his Word, in his Sacraments, in his grace, and in his Church.
And also, because, as we read in today’s first reading: “At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people.” St. Michael has been around and fighting for us
since before man was even created. And he and all his angels will be here when the final great tribulation comes. And he has been here and will be here every minute in between. Whenever you’re afraid of death, of evil things or of sin, remember to turn to this great soldier that God sends to protect us, and to remind us that, by God’s grace, we are never alone.
We are living in difficult times. It is a time to repent, and to remember that Jesus will come for us swiftly, either in death or at his 2nd coming. But be not afraid of the powers of this world, or of the turmoil of the times —they will most likely pass away into history. Fear only losing your salvation. And even then, do so with faith, hope and love in Christ. Know that he is here always
--in his word and in his sacraments
--in his grace and in his angels, especially St. Michael.
Repent and convert, and set your heart, minds and bodies on the joy and glory of living and loving with Christ, today, and forever!
"And then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect …from the end of the earth.”