The First Sunday of Advent [B]

The First Sunday of Advent [B]
Isaiah 63:16-17,19; 64:2-7  +  1 Corinthians 1:3-9  +  Mark 13:33-37
November 29, 2020

“Be watchful!  Be alert!”

The entire Gospel is filled with paradox, but the Gospel narratives of Advent and Christmas seem especially so.  These Gospel passages highlight two paradoxes:  first, the all-powerful God becoming a weak human; and second, God becoming man in order to destroy death by His dying.

The English writer G. K. Chesterton wrote a book about human history in general, and specifically about Jesus’ place at the center of human history.  It’s titled The Everlasting Man.  Chesterton writes at length about Bethlehem, and describes the paradox that Mary held in her arms and gazed upon the face of her Creator and Savior.  This is the paradox, Chesterton wrote, “that the hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle.”  The infinite God, in other words, is right under our noses.  Nonetheless, His Presence in our lives often remains a mystery.

Jesus opens the door to Advent with a demand:  “What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”  We are to watch for God Himself.  Advent and Christmas are such richly symbolic seasons that it’s easy to lose sight of God’s most obvious presence in our lives.  Where, then, do we find God?  Advent prepares us for Christmastide by looking in three places.

First:  history reveals Jesus to us.  Each Advent we commemorate, proclaim, and celebrate in the Sacred Liturgy the historical events that truly took place over two thousand years ago:  that “for us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”  During Advent, we look back at the life of Mary bearing Jesus in her womb for nine months.  We reflect on Joseph toiling to protect Mary and her unborn Child.  Through this reflection, we’re aided in two way:  by the moral examples of those in the Gospel, and by the grace that we receive because of what God accomplished 2000 years ago.

Second:  the future reveals Jesus to us.  That’s why the Gospel passage, on this First Sunday of Advent, is not about Mary bearing Jesus, or Joseph keeping watch.  The Gospel Reading focuses, instead, upon the future:  upon the particular judgment of your life that Jesus will make on the day of your death, and upon the Final Judgment that Jesus will make at His Second Coming.

Jesus came into this world two thousand years ago to save mankind.  Jesus will come at the end of time to judge mankind.  But Jesus is also right under our noses.  Here we see the third focus of Advent.  The solemnity of Jesus in the past and the majesty of Jesus in the future can overshadow the Presence of Jesus in the present.  This is the Jesus who wants to dwell within your own soul today.

You may think of yourself as simple, and maybe even unimportant in the grand scheme of the world.  You may recognize yourself as a poor sinner.  But it’s because of that spiritual poverty that Jesus wants to dwell in your soul, so that you can live your life in Him.  It’s in that poverty that Jesus wills to dwell, as He dwelt in a stable near Bethlehem.

Thursday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Revelation 18:1-2,21-23;19:1-3,9  +  Luke 21:20-28
November 26, 2020

“Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.”

Jesus issues a sharp challenge to you today.  His words might even be described as frightening.  Yet Jesus is not preaching fire and brimstone.  He’s not preaching, at least directly, about sin and damnation.  He is preaching, though, about the worldly desolation of Jerusalem, and signs above and upon earth that will cause people to “die in fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world”.

Many people find the idea of the end of the world very frightening, especially when it’s dramatized in literature or film.  The drama is enhanced by the physical destruction of worldly monuments and temples.  But physical destruction, no matter how vast the scale, pales in comparison to the destruction of a single human soul.

That phrase is not quite accurate, of course, because a soul can never be destroyed.  It would be more accurate to speak of “the destruction of a single human soul’s opportunity for eternal bliss”, or more simply, “the eternal damnation of a single human soul”.  Thanks be to God for His sending the Son of Man to redeem man from his sins.  This final truth is the reason for Jesus to speak hopefully at the end of today’s Gospel passage.  In effect, Jesus preaches that we need not fear the end of the world, or the end of earthly life, because when we place our faith in the Son of Man, we can have full assurance that our redemption is at hand.

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Revelation 15:1-4  +  Luke 21:12-19
November 25, 2020

“By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

So many people grow fearful thinking about a cataclysmic end of the planet, even though the vast majority will never face it.  Perhaps you’ve seen one of those movies where there’s a dramatic end to life on the planet Earth as we know it.  Movies like that can draw a great deal of attention, and sell a lot of tickets.  Nonetheless, it doesn’t matter if you die from an ice age covering the whole continent, or from old age in your very own home.  What comes next is the same.

This is what we reflect on at the end of each Church year,  In November, we pray to the saints in Heaven, and for the faithful in Purgatory, and the Church reminds us of the “last things”:  heaven, hell, death and judgment.  All this give us perspective.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus declares to His disciples, “By perseverance you will secure your lives.”  What does this mean?  Every day, God calls us to offer Him our lives in faith, and to live for others.  That’s how we can reach the hour of our death in God’s sight.  In the end, C. S. Lewis once explained, there are two types of persons:  those who say in the end:  “Heavenly Father, thy will be done”, and those to whom the Father will have to say, “My child, thy will be done.”

St. Andrew Dũng-Lạc, Priest & Martyr, and Companions, Martyrs

St. Andrew Dũng-Lc, Priest & Martyr, and Companions, Martyrs
Revelation 14:14-19  +  Luke 21:5-11
November 24, 2020

“Teacher, when will this happen?”

Everything that’s built by human beings can be destroyed.  That’s why something like the Great Pyramids of Egypt are so awesome:  not simply because they are so colossal, but because they have—to an amazing extent—survived the ravages of time.  You can think of one of the large cities on the West Coast of our own country (Los Angeles, for example):  from the air, as you fly into the area, you can be filled with awe.  Yet an earthquake could destroy everything in the area in a matter of minutes.

In this last week of the Church’s liturgical year, we hear Jesus contrasting “today” with “tomorrow”.  The Jewish people took pride in the physical beauty of the Temple in Jerusalem, but Jesus is cautioning them to think also of that “tomorrow” when the Temple would be no more.  Perhaps such talk was blasphemy to some of the Jews.  Perhaps they simply thought Jesus was being irrelevant, since the people of Jesus’ day would have had good reason to think that the Temple would stand for thousands of years.  In fact, Jesus was simply being a realist.

The reality is that this world is meant by God to be temporary.  It is meant to pass away.  Yet we are tempted to think of the passing away of the world, or of ourselves from this world, as something tragic.  Instead, Jesus wants us to embrace it as the opportunity He offers us for everlasting life.

Monday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Monday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Revelation 14:1-3,4-5  +  Luke 21:1-4
November 23, 2020

“… but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”

We live in a society in which values that are contrary to the Gospel are canonized.  A person’s value is measured in economic terms.  The poor are shunned as worthless.

God has a different set of values from those of our society.  When Jesus saw the wealthy putting large amounts of money into the collection box of the Temple, He was not impressed.  It was not as if the wealthy should not have given large sums, but Jesus was looking for something further.  He saw that something else in the poor widow who donated only two small coins.  He explains to us what He saw:  “[The wealthy] have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”

It was the sacrifice of the widow that mattered, not the amount she gave.  We are called to be generous people, sacrificial in all our relationships with others.  God does not value us for giving our money; or, for that matter, for giving our time and talent.  God values us for the sacrifice from which all of our giving flows.  This ability to sacrifice oneself flows from the love that we receive in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Revelation 11:4-12  +  Luke 20:27-40
November 21, 2020

And they no longer dared to ask Him anything.

In today’s Gospel passage, Our Lord tries to make clear to the Sadducees the meaning of the Resurrection.  We too, however, even if we understand and believe in both the Resurrection of Our Lord and the promise of resurrection that God offers to all who die, perhaps may need to realize what type of claim the Resurrection makes upon us as Christians.

To believe in the Resurrection is to believe in the future fulfillment of God’s grace.  It is to understand that the suffering of the present is as nothing compared to the future glory to be revealed in Christ Jesus.  It is to guard in God’s name what has been entrusted to me until that final Day, which for each of us is the day of our death.

We never find Our Lord going into great detail about the nature of the afterlife.  There are two practical reasons for this.  First, the glory which will be the reward of God’s elect is too far beyond our comprehension.  Second, our only hope for sharing in that glory is to persevere in running the race which God has set before us, to stir into flame the gift of God each of us first received at our baptism, a flame in which we are purified like gold in the furnace.

Friday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Friday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Revelation 10:8-11  +  Luke 19:45-48
November 20, 2020

“… but you have made it a den of thieves.”

The Temple was the holiest place in the entire world for Jews of Jesus’ day.  Catholics have a very different sense of God’s Presence in the world because of the abundance of God’s graciousness in the New Covenant.  But use your imagination to picture a world where every Catholic church in the world has been destroyed except one.  Every priest in the world except one has died.  There is only one tabernacle in the entire world, and only in that one place does Jesus dwell in the Most Blessed Sacrament.  In that world, how would Catholics approach that single tabernacle of the Most High?  That thought experiment helps us grasp somewhat the sacredness of the Temple for Jews of Jesus’ day.

In Jesus’ day, one of the obligations of a good Jew was to go to Jerusalem at the time of Passover, and to offer a sacrifice in the Temple.  Those who were wealthy offered an entire ox or sheep, while those with less means offered turtledoves.  So there grew up a very large market during the time around Passover, a system within which many abuses developed.

Jesus undoubtedly had people cheering for Him as He chastised the Jewish officials and money-makers.  But how many cheered for Him when the Jews asked for a sign from Jesus, and He replied, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”?  Probably some were baffled:  here He had purified the Temple, and now He wanted to destroy it?

For ourselves, Christ is the Temple, of which we are part through the Church.  We need to purify ourselves—in thought, word and deed; mind, spirit, and body—just as Jesus cleansed the Temple, so that right sacrifice might be offered there.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe [A]

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe [A]
Ezekiel 34:11-12,15-17  +  1 Corinthians 15:20-26,28  +  Matthew 25:31-46
November 22, 2020

“… all the nations will be assembled before him.  And he will separate them one from another ….”

If a poll were taken this month asking, “Do you like the fact that it’s now getting dark in the late afternoon?”, most of us would quickly respond, “No!”  Yet we know that the descent of darkness and diminishing days are a natural part of the year’s cycle.  With Winter’s approach, the leaves on our trees are dying, animals need shelter, and the influence of the sun weakens.

As the end of the year closes in upon us, part of us rebels.  We don’t like the darkness, cold, and death that we experience.  Yet we know that death is natural.  Death is part of life.

Death and life go hand-in-hand.  That truth is part of what the Church proclaims on the Solemnity of Christ the King.  The feast of Christ the King is the last Sunday of the Church year.  The Church year itself dies this week, so to speak.  Next Sunday a new year begins in order to help us celebrate the birth of God made man.

Yet while Advent—the first season of the Church year—focuses upon the birth of God as man in this world, the last Sunday of the year—today’s Solemnity of Christ the King—focuses upon the Last Judgment, the means by which fallen and redeemed man can be borne body and soul into eternal life.  At the Last Judgment Jesus will hold up our lives to His.

At the Last Judgment, Christ the King will call all the peoples of all the nations throughout the course of history to Himself, and judge each person one-by-one.  If you ever thought the line for confessions during Holy Week was long, just imagine what this line is going to look like!

Of course, time in the afterlife is not quite like time experienced on earth.  Nonetheless, as we wait in that line, we might think that we’ll never reach the front.  We might think that our time will never come.  This is similar to how many of us lead our lives on earth:  as if we will never die and never be judged.

In the midst of this wait, we are blessed in that we have the words of Christ to give us some idea about what this judgment will be like.  Did you ever have a teacher who gave you quizzes (or even worse, tests) without giving you any idea what you were going to be examined on?  Have you ever had to come up for an evaluation at work without any idea about what part of your performance would be scrutinized?  Not knowing makes the experience all the more difficult.

While we’re blessed to know what our final judgment will look like, this blessing is a two-edged sword.  Because we have heard the Gospel proclaimed, we’ll never be able to say that we didn’t know what God asked from us, and how our faith was meant to shape our earthly days.  Jesus makes it very clear that whether we will be admitted into the Kingdom of God depends in large measure upon whether or not the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy were the measure by which we sought to love Christ the King in our needing neighbor.

Thursday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Revelation 5:1-10  +  Luke 19:41-44
November 19, 2020

“Worthy are you to receive the scroll / and break open its seals ….”

Today’s passage from Revelation focuses on Jesus Christ.  Yet it also teaches us something important about His Bride, the Church.  The entire Book of Revelation is not only profoundly Christo-centric, but also centered on the Church, because the whole book has a spousal message.

In today’s passage we hear of “a scroll in the right hand of the one who sat on the throne”.  It’s fair to say that the one on the throne is God the Father, seated in His majesty.  The scroll is the Good News of His Son.  We might even say that this scroll is the Gospel.

But this scroll is sealed seven times over.  A mighty angel rhetorically asks, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”  The answer is the “lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David”.  These two metaphors represent Jesus Christ in regard to His earthly authority, suggesting that only Jesus Himself can authoritatively reveal Himself to others.

Then the Lamb who is slain is seen.  This image of Christ crucified shows us that it’s through the Cross that Jesus reveals who He is to others.  The Crucifixion of the Word made Flesh is the “glory” which St. John’s account of the Gospel builds up to.

The end of today’s passage speaks of those for whom the Lamb was slain.  We hear the Church’s leaders singing “a new hymn”, during which they cry out to the Lamb:  “with your Blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation.”  This is the universal Church who is the spouse of the Bridegroom who gave His life on Calvary.