The Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Daniel 12:1-3 + Hebrews 10:11-14,18 + Mark 13:24-32
November 14, 2021
“At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people ….”
When we step back from the normal press of daily life, breathe deeply, and reflect on everything in order to gain some perspective, we can look backwards to the past or forward to the future. Either perspective can prove helpful. A great deal of our spiritual lives as Catholics focuses on the past: the saving events of the Old and New Testaments, and the history of Jesus’ Church with all her saints.
But what about the future? There’s only one Sunday of the Church year that reflects upon a future event. For us Christians, then, how do we reflect upon the future? To a large degree, the average Christian connects the future with getting his own soul to Heaven. Prayer and the sacraments help in this regard.
But there’s another sense in which we look to the future. This second sense of the future is not about Heaven, though, but about the same earth on which our feet are planted now. Jesus teaches that the Gospel is not only for us to reach Heaven. The Gospel is also about the earth, as we pray in the “Our Father”: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” The basic game-plan for making this future hope a present reality consists in the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. These good works are part and parcel of the path God means for us to take to Heaven.
But there’s also a third sense in which Christians look to the future. This third sense is the rarest in the lives of most Christians. We tend to think of this third sense only around the time of the Solemnity of Christ the King, which the Church throughout the world will celebrate next Sunday. This third sense is an event in which all mankind will participate: the Final Judgment of mankind by Christ the King at the end of time.
In today’s First Reading, Daniel prophesies about “a time unsurpassed in distress”, and Jesus in today’s Gospel Reading describes for us “those days after… tribulation [when] the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky”. These verses sound like apocalyptic science fiction. Yet God tells us that every human being—including yourself—is going to participate directly in something just as earth-shattering as these events.
This Sunday the Church proposes a question in order to help you begin each day with your end in mind. Next Sunday on the Solemnity of Christ the King, the Church will offer her answer. This Sunday’s question is given in our First Reading from the Book of Daniel. As strange as it may sound, this question comes in the form of a person. Did you know that the name “Michael” is actually a question?
The name “Michael” literally means, “Who is like God?” It’s a rhetorical question, of course, because no one is like God. But Satan is blinded to that simple fact by his pride. St. Michael is often pictured as the great warrior among God’s archangels. But St. Michael’s power comes from his humility: his power lies in allowing himself to be an instrument in the Hand of God. As the English author G. K. Chesterton wrote, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.”
As one prays privately after Holy Mass, thanking God for the graces received and asking God to help one bear fruit in the world as one goes forth from the Mass, it’s a venerable custom to pray the Prayer to Saint Michael. This prayer reminds one not only of how important the virtue of humility is, but also of the stakes involved in the “Christian battle” of the spiritual life [see CCC 1496].
Some people trust that strength lies in numbers. Some trust that strength lies in knowledge. The saints trust that strength lies in humility, which opens oneself to the Love who is God. When you begin each day with an act of humility by handing the day over to God, He will give you all the strength needed to accomplish His holy Will: not your will, but His. We beg from God the grace to conform our wills to His. In this, God’s children can become united with each other and with God Himself. The two great commandments—to love God and neighbor—become united.