Saturday, November 17, 2012
With great threats to our religious liberty and the dignity of life, the economic “cliff” facing our country and world, war and violence, over-consumption and greed, crazy weather patterns, and our own personal struggles, it is maybe an easy argument to make that now is “the time unsurpassed in distress,” as reference by the prophet Daniel in today’s first reading, and that now are the days of tribulation, as predicted in today’s Gospel, which will precede the Second Coming of Jesus. But, Daniel twenty-five hundred years before us had a good argument too, as his fellow Israelites were held captive in a foreign land and were being persecuted. And so also, could the primary audience of the Gospel writer Mark, writing in the late first century in Rome and at a time of impending persecution of Christians and the destruction of Jerusalem. In the end, as Jesus reminds us: "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." Today’s readings nonetheless focus our attention on what we call “the last things” or the “end times.” The reality of death, judgment, heaven and hell. And in turn, we are invited to consider our own mortality and our readiness to encounter Christ’s judgment. For Christians, death is the gateway to eternal life with God. In death, the body separates from the soul, the human body decays, and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. There are no second chances, no reincarnation, no re-do’s – we live and die our earthly lives only once. St. Paul states that each of us “must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one of us may receive good or evil according to what we did.” The good is Heaven, the evil is Hell. For those who have deliberately rejected God and the saving grace of Christ, there will be total separation from God – this is Hell. God does not send anyone to Hell; rather, He allows each of us to live forever with their free choice to accept or reject Him. To be clear, God’s will is that we all know eternal life, love, and peace. This is Heaven: the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ – all those who have loved as Christ loved and taught us to love. It is a communion of life and love with the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and with the Virgin Mary, with the angels and all the blessed. This is the goal of our existence on earth and the reason God created us: to be with him forever in heaven in perfect happiness and peace. As we are reminded in today’s second reading to the Hebrews: “For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.” Thus, the opportunity of eternal life with God was made possible through the death on the Cross of his Son and our Savior. Additionally, our eternal destiny depends on the free choices we make now and the outpouring of the graces of Christ to live lives of faith and love. Our of God’s great love and mercy for us, and his desire to be with us eternally, we also believe in the transitional state of purgatory for those who die in God’s grace and friendship, but who also require some further purification for sins committed in this life or as punishment for sins forgiven, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of Heaven without blemish. In a minute or two we will profess together that we “…look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” We believe in the resurrection of the body. Just as Christ rose from the dead, so too will God grant life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, and make possible a new and yet unimaginable life that we will enjoy eternally. The book of Daniel is the earliest recorded belief of resurrection in the Old Testament, and the first reading offers a wonderful insight into the resurrection of the body: more than just being the same person in a new place; in our resurrection, we will be transformed and shine brightly like stars! As Catholics, we also believe in the Second Coming of Christ, an event that will bring human and earthly life to an end as we know it and it will be a final defeat to evil and darkness. As today’s readings remind us, Christ’s Second Coming will be preceded by a time of great tribulation and distress. Rather than focusing on what or when this might be (only the Father knows, right?), the Church in her wisdom calls us to be ready for the return of Christ. We believe, finally, in the Last Judgment. Following Christ’s return, the Last Judgment will reveal that God’s justice triumphs over all injustices, that God’s love is stronger than death. This will be a time in which we shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation. And so we place our hope in a new Heaven and a new Earth where there will be no more tears or mourning, no more pain or death. Much more can be said of each of these and other dogmas and teachings of our faith. So I hope that you will join me in January as we host Father Robert Barron’s Catholicism study series to learn more about and share our faith. Please look for details in future bulletins. In the midst of our current distress and tribulation, what are we to do now? For me, it is about reminding myself everyday and in all that I do, that I am part of something bigger, something not limited to our earthly existence, but of our loving Creator’s desire that I share in eternal life, eternal peace, eternal joy. So, instead of being complacent or discouraged or even angry, I am just the opposite: filled with joy and hope. While living in the present, I recognize my failures and weaknesses, and seek God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I act with love and charity toward others, as God is towards me. I celebrate and pray with the communion of saints – you sitting here, those in purgatory, and those in Heaven. And I commit to share God’s love with others by actions and words. I invite you to do the same. If we do this, God’s promise to us will be realized: eternal life! May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 9:48 AM