Monday, November 15, 2010

On the last judgment, Sermon of November 14th

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.
November 14th, 2010
Luke 21:5-19

Jesus said, “All that you see here – the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down … But not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

I would like to begin with a little thought experiment – take a moment and think about what your primary image of Christ is. When you think of Jesus, what image or what event first comes to your mind?
I am sure that, for many of us, we think of various moments in Christ’s life – either his birth or one of his miracles, perhaps his preaching or his love for the children; I am sure that many think of the crucifixion, when he proved his love for us. Perhaps even some have thought of the resurrection or Christ as he is now, reigning in the glory of heaven. And all of these are fine and good images of Christ – but none of these are the principle ways in which the earliest Christians thought about the Savior.

For the first Christians, the primary image of Christ was not something from the past (something from his life on earth), nor from the present (as he now is in heaven); rather, the central focus of the earliest Christians was a future event: the second coming and the day of judgment. When they thought of the Lord, they immediately thought of the end of time and the coming of God’s Kingdom.
Today’s Gospel, in which Christ speaks about the last days, would have been at the fore of everyone’s mind in the early Church – more than anything else, the early Christians looked forward. They focused on the goal; not only their own personal goal, which is salvation and heaven, but also the goal of all history: The last day, the final judgment, and the resurrection of the body.
Moreover, in the earliest days, the Church suffered intense persecution and grave trials. The first Christians would have identified with Christ’s words: For they were often betrayed and even killed by family and friends. They knew well that the whole world hated them. And yet they did not fear, for they knew that Christ would be coming soon.

It is our task, in these final days of the Church’s year (which begins anew at Advent), to make this fundamental disposition of the early Christians our own. We too must foster this longing for the Kingdom. Indeed, I am sure that we all desire that Christ would come again, for we all pray “thy kingdom come.” And yet, though we do want the kingdom to come, we often secretly add, “but please not today!”
Perhaps we are a bit afraid of the second coming, perhaps we fear the end of the world. But why are we afraid? It is Christ who is coming. It is the Lord, our Savior; he comes to bring peace for his people!

In these final two weeks of the Liturgical year, and as we prepare for Advent, we can consider what it is in our lives that makes us to fear the coming of Christ, and then offer that to the Lord.
Is it an attachment to sin in our own lives? Let us turn to Christ and ask for his healing love. We have the sacrament of Confession, it is a great means of healing and strength.
Or, do we fear the final judgment because we have loved ones who are estranged from Christ or from the Church? We should pray for them. Remember, Christ died for them; will he not convert them, if only we persevere in prayer? We need only entrust them to the Divine Mercy!

No, we must not fear the second coming, we must not fear the day of judgment. There will indeed be tumult and distress, but this will not be from Christ – it will be that final assault of evil, that sad moment of human weakness and sin. For the world will not slowly get better and better, progressing to become the Kingdom of God. Rather, the world will get worse and worse, and the Church will suffer intense persecutions and trials. But then, when it seems that the gates of hell are about to prevail against Christ’s Bride, then he will come!
The second coming will not be a time of chaos, but, for those who believe, it will be the end of all sorrow and the beginning of eternal peace. Indeed, for Christ’s faithful, the second coming will scarcely be a day of judgment – rather, it will be a moment of vindication!

When the Lord tells us that he will soon return in glory to judge the heavens and the earth, this is not a threat. No, it is a promise which gives rise to a great hope. And this hope wells up within us unto life everlasting.