Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Last Sunday after Pentecost—25 November AD 2018
Ave Maria!


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    The ancient Greeks believed that time was cyclical; that after the passage of thousands of years the same events would take place again and again, in a never ending cycle.  If you did something today, you would be inexorably made to repeat the same action forever, every so many thousand years.

    Modern science and divine revelation both disagree with this notion of the ancient Greeks.  The universe was, indeed, created at a moment in time; and will someday come to an end.  During the time in between, men and women are free to act—free to do good or bad—without being bound up in some inexorable cycle.

    But even if they were wrong, one can't blame the ancient Greeks for guessing that history is cyclical.  So much of human experience causes us to think in terms of cycles.  Each morning the sun rises, each evening it sets;  every year there is winter and summer;  men and animals and even plants are born and live and die, only to be replaced by new men and animals and plants.

    Today we come to the end of another cycle, the liturgical year.  Next week we will begin all over with the first Sunday of Advent.  Over and over, the Church celebrates God's intervention in human history; His birth, His life, His death, and His resurrection.

    Those who study the Church's liturgy tell us that, at one time, the liturgical year ended a week ago, and that this Sunday was the beginning of a five week long Advent, beginning the new year.[1]  Both this Mass and next week’s Mass have the same Gospel theme, our Lord's testimony about the end times and His Second Advent, when He will come again in glory at the end of the world.  In any event, the two Masses serve as a sort of “connector” to tie the end of one cycle to the beginning of the next.

    Now, it may seem strange for the Church to begin her dramatization of the events of salvation history at the end!  But you can be sure that there is no accident in the choice of these Gospels.  The end of time and the last judgment is what philosophers call a “final cause” —instead of being the first action in a chain of causes and effects, a “final cause"” is one that seems to draw events to it in the future.  An example might be graduation from high school;  for four years all of a student's academic work is directed and drawn toward the goal of graduating and receiving the reward of a diploma.  In our case, we see that all of creation is drawn toward its proper end; towards judgment, and, hopefully, the rewards of heaven.

    There are three aspects that we should consider in looking toward the future and our final destiny.  The first is best considered from the beginning of creation, by placing ourselves in the position of Adam and Eve.  Even though we have sinned and have no means to make reparation, God has promised to send one who will crush the head of the serpent, and bring about reparation and our redemption from sin.  The four weeks of Advent, can thus be looked at as the four thousand years that Adam and his descendants waited for the coming of the Redeemer, who would, in turn, prepare them for His coming again at the day of judgment.

    The Church urges us to observe Advent as a season of penance very much like Lent.  The vestments will be purple, and the prayers of the Mass somewhat restrained.  We ought to devote more time to prayer and reflection, perhaps observing an Advent fast as was the case years ago.  Advent is, as we say, the “fast before the feast,” that we observe to prepare for the celebration of Christ's first coming at Christmas.  Observant Catholics try to plan their Christmas parties during the Christmas season; not in Advent.

    The second aspect we should consider in looking toward our final destiny is the one so graphically illustrated in today's Gospel; the time of tribulation and the Second Advent (or Second Coming of Christ).  At a time “when many will fall away and betray one another … and the charity of many will grow cold … the gospel shall have been preached to the whole world … and then will come the end.”[2]   There will come the “abomination of desolation,” an Old Testament phrase that means the replacement of the Holy Sacrifice by pagan worship.  There will come physical tribulations, which even the elect (those whom God knows to be saved) must endure.  There will come deception, as the great power of the devil is used to try to draw Christians away from the true Faith of Jesus Christ.

    Those who are around to observe this Second Advent will, indeed, observe a penitential season.  Those who are among the elect will be those who are steadfast in the Faith, endowed by God with the virtue of perseverance.  They will refuse to abandon the Sacrifice of the Mass.  They will refuse to follow the teachers of innovations; refuse to follow new ideas of morality and new doctrines.  In spite of “great signs and wonders” and great personal suffering, they will refuse to abandon the Faith that has come down from the time of the Apostles.

    Now, we don't know when this Second Advent will come.  Many expected it during the lifetime of the Apostles, and down through the centuries men have often thought that, perhaps, they were seeing the “signs of the times” in their own time.  The only thing that we can be certain of is that we are uncertain:  “of that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but the Father only.” [3]  “The day of the Lord will come as a thief.”[4]

    But, I don't think I can tell you often enough that it doesn't much matter when the second coming will occur.  And that is the third perspective from which we must consider in looking toward the future;  the perspective of our own mortality.  For, even if the Second Advent is thousands of years in the future, we must prepare for our own personal end—an end that will equally come as a "thief in the night … because at an hour that you do not expect the Son of Man is coming.”[5]   And, not surprisingly, exactly the same things are necessary to prepare for our own personal Advent; our own “coming of the Lord”;  prayer, and penance, and steadfastness in the Catholic Faith.

So today we both end and begin the cycle of the history of our redemption.  We can view it from several perspectives.  We can and should rejoice in the First Coming of our Lord.  But we must also be prepared for the Second Coming, to avoid the “everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels,” and to gain “the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world.”[6]   Once again:  prayer, and penance, and steadfastness in the Catholic Faith.


[1]   Dom Guéranger, The Liturgical Year, vol. XI., p. 483.;  Pius Parch, The Church's Year of Grace, vol. v., p. 131.

[2]   Matthew xxiv 10-14  (just before the beginning of today's passage, 15-35.





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