Homily — 33rd Sunday OT B

Homily — 33rd Sunday OT B November 19, 2006

Last Judgment by Giotto (http://cgfa.floridaimaging.com/giotto/giotto17.jpg)

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Today’s Gospel from Mark is a segment of Jesus’ rather long discourse on the end of the world and His Second Coming, which according to Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus taught the disciples just a few days before he himself died.

Every year in November, the Church encourages us to reflect on what’s traditionally called the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.

As if to set the overriding tone of the month, we begin the month by reflecting on Heaven: November 1 is All Saints Day, the Holiest Day of the Month. We’re even obliged to stop what we’re doing that day and come to Church to honor the heroes and heroines of our faith and to remember the glories that await us if we persevere. So the Church would have us think most often of Heaven this month and throughout the year even.

November 2, All Souls Day, we shift our focus from the Blessed Saints in Glory to the Suffering Souls in Purgatory, and in doing so we also shift from reflecting on Heaven to reflecting on Death. The Church encourages us the first week of November to visit a cemetery and pray for the Souls of those buried there under the Autumn leaves, and to remember the brevity of our own life while we are at it.

And finally, in the Last few weeks of November, the readings at Mass and in the other official prayers of the Church focus more and more on such cheery topics as the end of the world, the second coming of Christ, the final judgment, and how as Daniel in the first reading puts it some shall live forever (in the glory of Heaven), others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace (in Hell).

Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell are all pretty heavy things to think deeply on, but remember that its only one month out of twelve that these things take Center Stage in our faith life (not that the rest of the year we should totally forget about them however).

Today’s readings focus mainly on the Tribulations leading up to the End: Daniel begins by saying it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time.

Jesus, in the passage right before today’s Gospel passage elaborates greatly on Daniels words, and then basically says as bad as that will be, it will get even worse: after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give it’s light, and the stars will be falling form the sky and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then Christ will return. [Is Jesus being literal or figurative? In some ways a spiritual interpretation (of Christ the light of the world being darkened, Mary the Moon not giving her light, the saints not shining down on the Earth) is more frightening than a literal one.]

As you are probably aware, there are many crazy and erroneous theories about what apocalyptic passages like this one and others all mean. Many non-Catholic Christian groups for instance believe in what they call the pre-tribulation Rapture, which teaches that all “born again” Christians will be snatched away from the earth and be taken to Heaven before things get really bad. (In other words, if the Rapture were to happen right now, those of us who are saved would just disappear from the pews. If I’m saved I would vanish from the pulpit, and those left would have to go over to the Rectory to get Fr. Blain to finish the Mass – but hopefully he wouldn’t be there either!)

And then there are some Christians in this country, some in high places, that are actually trying to stir up things in the Middle East, for they believe this will hasten the Rapture and they want to get off this earth soon!

So what is a faithful Catholic to think about all these things? Will I be raptured, or “left behind”? Is the end near?

First of all, no one is being raptured. The whole erroneous (possibly heretical) doctrine of the Rapture was invented 200 years ago; for the first 1800 years no serious Christian Catholic or Protestant ever held such a position.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a great section explaining the Church’s traditional teaching on the End Times, a teaching we Catholics have consistently held since apostolic times, a teaching we believe to be the authentic teaching of Christ.

I will conclude by quoting and commenting on two paragraphs from the section entitled “The Church’s Ultimate Trial” (all emphasis my own):

CCC#675 — Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers [so one of the signs of the end times is that “many” will fall away from the Catholic faith – Fr. W]. The [final] persecution . . . . will unveil . . . .a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist [note the capital A – Fr. W], a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of His Messiah come in the flesh.

#677 — The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. [Sorry, no rapture before the end: the Church must suffer and die before she is raised eternally – Fr. W].

(#677 cont.) The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. [My interpretation of this passage is that Satan will suspect that his time is running out, and so he will attack the Church on earth one final time, with all the forces of hell at his disposal. As the Pope and every other believer on earth is just about ready to wave the white flag in surrender, At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, leading all the other angels and all the saints of heaven down to earth to fight the devil and win for us that final terrible battle.]

(#677 concl.) God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.

When’s it all going to happen? Jesus says He doesn’t know, and the Father isn’t telling us either. But over the past 500 years or so, and especially over the past 50 years, the branch of the fig tree does look like its at least become tender.

Let us pray fervently to God my brothers and sisters, atoning for our sins and the sins of the whole world while we do so, that those aren’t buds we’re starting to see, sprouting on that dreadful branch.

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