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.”
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“Unless you become like little children, you will not enter into the kingdom
Those who refuse to aid the less fortunate, refuse Christ Himself, and will
“enter the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
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
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.”
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