My Dear brothers and Sisters in Christ
Grace and peace to you in God, our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy spirit on this cold and snowy weekend. As we get to the end of the liturgical year and approach the season of Advent, I’ll admit to you that I think most Catholic priests do a crummy job of preaching these readings. Most of us don’t want to deal with them because they do seem so vengeful and not at all the loving, forgiving, hugging God we want to preach. Our first reading talked about the proud and evildoers being burned to death. The gospel has a whole litany of things that will precede the end times: wars, insurrections, plagues, famines, awesome sights and mighty signs from the sky, and even persecution from the government, family, and acquaintances. I can understand why most priests would rather talk about the second reading from St. Paul where he says that we are all expected to contribute to the body of the Christ, the church, instead of just taking from it whatever we can get. If you don’t work to bring people to the church than you shouldn’t eat the body of Christ, or at least some priests will say this weekend. And, don’t get me wrong, I agree. It’s an important message. Just not for today.
Today, we focus on the end time. Why do we do so? If you turn(ed) on a TV on Sunday/this morning around 7:00 and watched a televangelist, you know why. They read passages like we read and then point to things happening in the world as though there is a one to one relationship. There’s an earth quake in Haiti and it mentions earthquakes in the gospel. We’re clearly in the end times. There’s a famine in Africa which is also mentioned in the gospel. End times. There’s a mysterious plume of smoke in California. That’s clearly a awesome sight and mighty sign from the sky. I think I can Jesus from here! They say that all these signs point to the end times and then start a narrative about how it will all come about. There seems to be three components that they aren’t sure about the order of: tribulation, judgment and paradise. Some say that we will be judged and taken up into heaven before the tribulation begins. Others say that we will be judged and taken up to heaven in the midst of the tribulation. Still others say that judgment will happen after the tribulation has ended. I can still remember talking to a shocked fundamentalist preacher who asked what the Catholic Church’s stance was on this. I looked at him and told him that we don’t believe in a theology of the end times that didn’t exist prior to 1800 and one that seems intent on missing the entire point of the gospel when it comes to the end times.
In the Gospel, Jesus acknowledges that there will always be suffering. Even if we could find a way to make peace throughout nations, there will still be natural disasters, disease, and the presence of evil to make life difficult. Jesus isn’t giving a secret treasure make to those who understand about how things are going to unfold in the end times. He’s trying to encourage us to be active evangelists, to speak and live our lives as though the Gospel does matter. The gospel is a mighty fire that will burn us alive if we don’t live out its precepts and invite others to do so as well. Jesus even says not to worry if you feel unworthy or unprepared. He will speak through you and tell you what to say if you have your heart open. I’ve heard many people say they don’t feel as educated about the Bible or about the faith as others, in particular our Protestant brothers and sisters. Do not be afraid! You may be surprised what Jesus will do through you if you are opn to it.
What’s what we have to keep in mind about these upcoming end-times readings: they aren’t there to scare us. They aren’t there to give us a detailed account of the end of the world they are there to encourage us to witness to the power and the glory of Jesus Christ in our everyday words and actions. Huh. Maybe my brothers priests are right. Maybe the whole point of the end times is that if we don’t work to build up the body of Christ, we shouldn’t eat and drink the body of Christ.