Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Last Sunday after Pentecost—25 November AD 2007

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English

    This Sunday marks the end of the Church’s liturgical year in a somewhat apocalyptic manner, with today’s Gospel (according to Saint Matthew) seeming to mix a description of the destruction of Jerusalem with a description of the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus Christ.  Next week, as we begin the new liturgical year and the season of Advent, we will hear Saint Luke’s account, which is more clearly a prophecy of the second coming.  While such descriptions seem proper for the end of the year, one might ask why we would begin the new year in the same manner.  It seems to be that the Church wants us to prepare for our celebration of the first coming of Christ at Christmas, by comparing it with the second coming on judgment day.

    The first time Christ came into this world, it was in poverty, humility, and obscurity.  His family lived in a back water town, in a far away outpost of the Roman Empire, although very few or none of His associates would be eligible for Roman citizenship.  They were an occupied people.  His foster father earned a living through his labors as a carpenter in an era that knew no power tools, no store bought hinges or nails or screws.  He couldn’t even be born at home, for the rulers of the occupation had summoned his family to Bethlehem to be counted in a census.

    Christ’s second coming into this world will be quite different, for poverty, humility, and obscurity will give way to majesty, triumph, and universal public acclaim.  “As the lightning comes forth from the east and shines even to the west,” everyone will see “the sign of the Son of Man in heaven ... and he will send forth His angels with a trumpet ... to gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”[1]

    In a similar way, we know that if we share the detachment and the humility of Christ in His first coming, we can expect to share the glory and triumph of His second coming.  This is more than speculation, for we have heard it repeated by our Lord all throughout the year we are now concluding.  Remember the Pharisee and the publican—the Pharisee boasted about himself to God, while the publican acknowledged his sinful behavior and begged God’s mercy—“he who humbles himself will be exalted.”[2]  Remember the parable about the proud men who always took the most prominent places at dinners and parties—how embarrassed they would be when had to give up their seats if a truly distinguished guest arrived.[3]  Remember the good Samaritan or the Roman soldier who proclaimed himself unworthy to have Christ enter under his roof—both of these men were foreigners, outcasts from the Jewish point of view, but praised by Jesus far beyond many of the Jewish people;  the one for his charity, and the other for his faith.[4]

    The entire life of Christ serves to teach us this lesson.  The Creator of all things had “not even a place to rest His head.”[5]  The King of kings got down on His knees and washed the feet of His disciples, and told them that they must learn to do likewise.[6]  “Unless you become like little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”[7]  Those who refuse to aid the less fortunate, refuse Christ Himself, and will “enter the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”[8]

    It is in this spirit of detachment, and humility, and charity that we should prepare to celebrate the first coming of Our Lord at Christmas.  The Church tries to help us recall this by setting aside the season of Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, much as She sets aside the forty days of Lent before Easter.  You will see purple vestments each Sunday, and there are a few extra days of fast and abstinence on the calendar.  But, for the most part, you must make your own Advent plans.  I would hope that we will see a few more people at daily Mass, and that you will set aside some extra time for prayer and spiritual reading—the daily Rosary would be a good habit to acquire.

    Admittedly keeping a good Advent, is not easy in the modern world.  Christmas itself, for which we are preparing, has been terribly distorted.  We are expected to spend large sums of money, often for useless things that will soon be discarded, and we are told that we ought not actually use the word “Christmas” in public places for fear of offending the pagans.  The sales pitches and the “holiday” music are now well underway by Thanksgiving day, and we are made to feel as though we were a drain on the national economy if we fail to go into debt.

    And, even if our co-workers and friends profess to be Christians (or even Catholics) most have given up the tradition of fasting before the feast.  A lot of us will be invited to attend Christmas dinners and parties well before the twenty-fifth of the month.

    Some of that is impossible to avoid.  It is probably not a good idea to turn down the invitation to the boss’s Christmas party.  But by the same token, we ought not personally contribute to the tarnishing of the Advent season.  There is plenty of time to socialize with friends and family after Advent turns into Christmas.  Perhaps you remember the song about “The Twelve Days of Christmas”—you know, the one with the “partridge in a pear tree.”  Those twelve days extend from Christmas until January 6th, the feast of the Epiphany or the Three Kings.  That’s the time for your Christmas celebration, for indeed, Christmas loses an important dimension if we leave out the three Wise Men.  In fact the Church continues the Christmas season until the fortieth day after;  the day on which our infant Lord was presented in the Temple at Jerusalem.  At least to the degree that you have control over things, do plan to keep the Advent season in its proper spirit.  Now is the time to be making those plans.

    Before I close, let us go back, briefly, to the idea that Jesus Christ will someday return in majesty and triumph to “judge the living and the dead.”  The Gospel narrative sounds kind of scary—and it should, for we are talking about the most momentous event ever since creation.  People in every age have feared that they were living in the “end times.”  Many of us are no different, and we can plausibly point to the goings-on both in Church and in state, and assume that we are seeing that “abomination of desolation” which our Lord mentions in the Gospel.

    Presumably, some day there will be an end to the world we live in.  We may be living in those “end times,” but people have been wrong about that in past ages, and we could be wrong as well.  But I would remind you that the “end of the world” will come for each and every one of us in a very personal way.  And our Lord assures us that we must be constantly vigilant:  “Watch, for you know not the day nor the hour ... when your Lord is to come.”[9]  It really doesn’t make much difference if the end of the world comes this year, a thousand years from now, or a thousand-thousand years from now.  When our own individual time comes, there will be no postponing it, so we should always be ready.

    That ought to be in our minds throughout the Advent season.  Prepare not only for the first coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas, but prepare, as well, for His second coming on the day of your own individual judgment.


[1]   Gospel:  Matthew xxiv: 15-35.

[2]   Luke xviii: 9-14

[3]   Luke xiv: 1-11.

[4]   Luke x: 23-37;   Matthew viii: 1-13.

[5]   Luke ix: 58;  Matthew viii: 20.

[6]   John xiii: 1-17

[7]   Matthew xviii:1-4.

[8]   Matthew xxv: 31-46.

[9]   Matthew xxv: 13;   xxiv: 42.


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