Sunday Sermon for November 18, 2018, 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 today our Lord teaches us about what will happen at the end of the world: the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Needless to say, it will be a terrifying time. For those who will be alive at that time, they will have the privilege of seeing the “Son of Man coming in the clouds” and the angels being sent to gather the elect.
The times we are living in are not the end times, regardless of how many people want you to believe it is. But the advice our Lord gives for the end times is completely apropos for our time because we are living in interesting times. Even if everything was tranquil and orderly, each person needs to recognize that their earthly life is going to end, and that death could come any day, so we must always be ready and prepared.
The events regarding the end times could be fairly exciting for those who have been faithful to our Lord and have kept themselves in the state of Grace during the time of trial. So, too, the events we are witnessing in the world can be hopeful if we are able to look beyond the temporal things and keep our focus on what God is doing. We often see this focus with people as they approach death because their love for God and their fidelity to Him gives them great confidence regarding their judgment and their final home in eternity.
The Prophet Daniel speaks of this same mystery in the first reading today. Speaking about the end of the world, he talks about the resurrection from the dead. We have to recall that every human person has an immortal soul; our soul cannot die. Our personality, our mind, and our will all reside in the soul. So death is the separation of the soul from the body. The body lies in death because the soul is the life of the body, but the soul continues to live and, in fact, goes forth to stand before the Lord for judgment.
Our bodies will be interred in one way or another, but our person will live on forever. The separation of the body and the soul is temporary, that is, from the moment of our death until the moment of the resurrection. Our body will rise from the dead and be reunited with our soul; we will then live, body and soul, for the rest of eternity.
The two possible places for eternal life are absolute opposites. Daniel says some will be an everlasting horror and a disgrace while others will shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament. So, to put it more simply, some will rise and be glorified; the others will rise and be horrified. Either way, we will all live forever in the fullness of our being, body and soul, with no opportunity to change our minds regarding our choice of eternity.
This is why we have to choose well – and choose now. Since there are only two possible choices, and we all need to choose one or the other, we need to choose wisely, not only for ourselves, but because our choice will almost certainly influence others. Daniel tells us that those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever. I realize we would all probably say, if given the choice, that we would prefer going to Heaven instead of the alternative. On one hand it is that easy; on the other hand it is not.
It is easy to say “I would rather go to Heaven” but our choice is not merely a matter of preference. We must make an intentional choice that is lived out in our day-to-day life. To choose Heaven means to live our faith and strive to grow in holiness. St. Paul reminds us, in the second reading, that Jesus offered one sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. Knowing we cannot remove sin from our own soul, we must seek the forgiveness of sin that comes only from Christ.
It does not matter how many sins we have committed or how big the sins might be, God’s mercy is infinite and He wants to forgive us when we are truly repentant. We can have absolute confidence in the love of God and in the mercy of God. This is not the false love and mercy that suggests God does not care what we do, He just loves us anyway. We have to accept His love and mercy, allow it to change our lives, and live in this world with our focus on Jesus and life of the world to come.
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.