Sunday Sermon for November 18, 2012, the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Readings: Dan 12:1-3; Heb 10:11-14, 18; Mk 13:24-32
In the Gospel reading our Lord tells us to learn a lesson from the fig tree and then gives a second example of the south wind. The fig tree, He says, when it leafs out, is a sign that summer is near and the south wind it a telltale sign of a coming heat wave in the Middle East. These points follow His instruction on some of the events that will happen at the end of the world.
Today there are more and more people looking at the signs of the times, as we have been instructed to do by the Second Vatican Council, but they are somehow finding that the times we are in correlate to the signs our Lord has given for His immanent return. Hardly a day goes by without seeing a new article, mostly by Evangelical Protestants, that we are near the rapture, the tribulation is at hand or we have entered into the final days.
While I agree that we are headed for difficult times, they are certainly not the end times spoken of by our Lord. This is important to keep in mind because St. Paul had to write to the Thessalonians telling them he did want them shaken out of their minds about the thought that the end was upon them. In case you would rightly dismiss my opinion as having little weight, you will be happy to know that our Holy Father has also stated publicly that we are not near the end of the world.
Nevertheless, I do not think one has to be a genius to recognize that we live in very troubled times. It may even become, as we read in the first reading, a time unsurpassed in distress. This is the case because of the sheer number of people on the earth today and the dependence of most of the world on technology that would leave many millions in the lurch if it ever failed. This does not imply that we are near the end, but it suggests that we may be living in a time that will presage the end and serve as a reference point for the people who are alive when the end comes.
Given the situation in which we live, we have to look closely at what the Lord tells us about the terrible times that will one day befall the world. He tells Daniel that at that time there will arise Michael, the great prince and guardian of the people of Israel. This means that there will be a lot of angelic activity going on in those days. If our time is somewhat similar to the end times, then as things get worse we can expect to see the angels of Heaven become very active on our behalf. This is a great consolation and, I must admit, I think it is far greater to rely on the angels than on technology.
Regardless of the times, there is one constant that has been present in the Church for 2000 years and has seen the Church through good times and bad, through boom and bust. That constant is Jesus truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, the source of all Saints. St. Paul tells us in the second reading that by one offering He has forever made perfect those who are being consecrated. He says that where there is forgiveness of sin there is no longer offering for sin. The one sacrifice of Jesus continues to be offered so that sins can continue to be forgiven, but what is new is what takes place in the heart and soul of the person who receives forgiveness.
If we cooperate with the Lord He works in us to perfect us and unite us to Himself. For us to be perfected implies that there will be a fair amount of purification that will have to occur and this only comes from various forms of tribulations. The suffering on the horizon will come for two reasons: first of all, both the Church and the world need to by purified. Second, since we live in a time when so many are walking away from their faith or have never known it due to the crisis in catechesis, an external purification will be necessary.
People with no spiritual depth cannot endure an internal purification, so they will need to make some basic decisions regarding God, Jesus, and the Church. For those who are faithful, this same trial that overcomes the Church will serve as an interior purification where we will not only have to consider aspects of faith, but hope and charity as well. This is going to affect everybody, so read the signs of the times and begin now to augment your prayer life and learn to trust completely in the Lord.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.