33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. November 15th 2015.
Dan 12:1-3; Heb 10:11-14,18; Mk 13:24-32
Facing the repentance question
I must confess that the news about the Islamic terrorist attacks in France this last weekend left me with an initial anger and fear. I was angry at such senseless taking of life and also afraid of what this meant for the value of human life in our world today and if we would ever have peace on this earth. Probably many of us experienced both fear and anger at such dastardly acts of violence.
Anger and fear. But is that how Jesus responded to disasters? Jesus used those moments of disaster to ask the repentance question, “What are you holding on to? Are you holding on to what endures or to what is passing away?”
When Jesus was informed of the untimely and brutal murder of His Galilean countrymen by Pilate during a religious gathering (Cf Lk 13:1-5), He used this opportunity to remind them of the need to repent, “I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did.” In this same passage, Jesus repeated the same call in response to the news of the tragic and untimely death of the eighteen by the falling tower of Siloam. He responds to natural and manmade disasters by calling for repentance, calling us to let go of passing and transitory things so as to hold on to what endures for eternity. Jesus’ call for repentance is not just a call to turn away from sin but also a call to make a confident turn towards God to receive from Him a merciful love that endures forever and brings us into His eternal kingdom.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives many signs of His second coming as well as the end of time. His coming will be accompanied by signs of diverse natures. There will be the disastrous signs from the tribulation from being persecuted, the cataclysmic signs of the sun being darkened, the moon not giving its lights, the stars falling from the sky, the powers of the heavens being shaken, and the inconsequential sign of the budding of the fig tree. All these signs seem to shout out to us, “Jesus is coming soon. What are you holding on to?” In the midst of all these signs, Jesus tells us the only thing that does not pass away, the only thing that we should hold on to – His words to us, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” The signs will come and go, no matter how disastrous, cataclysmic or inconsequential they may be, but Jesus’ words to us, His commands and His promises to us, all fruits of His enduring love for us, will not pass away. This is what we must hold on to. We journey towards repentance when we choose to hold on to His words of truth and His promises and to let go of that which passes away.
God’s message to the Prophet Daniel through vision is that, no matter the persecution that the Jews were experiencing under Antiochus Epiphanes, this persecution will not last forever. Even the time in the grave will be temporary as we see the first predictions of life after death in the Old Testament, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.” It is the wise, those who are transformed by God’s words to them that will “shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament.”
This is the message that the Church is meant to bring to humanity in every time and place, “Jesus is hidden with us now and we see Him by faith. He is coming again in visible glory to judge the living and the dead. What are you holding on to now?” Are we asking ourselves and the world this question? Or are we so focused on being politically correct, trying to find a safe compromise with our own worldly attitudes and values, so careful not to offend the feelings of others by the challenging truths that Christ has revealed to us authoritatively in His Church, respecting the conscience of others as if conscience does not need to be formed by truth anymore? The more we ignore the repentance question, the more we lose the hope that comes from building our lives on God’s word that endures forever.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the temptation that we face in our world of chaos is to live in fear of what is to come or to speak and act out of anger at God or to blame our neighbors. If hope is going to be restored, we must face these disasters with the attitude of Jesus Christ and see these disasters as moments to ask ourselves the repentance question, “What am I holding on to in this life? Am I holding on to things that are passing away like my emotions? Am I holding on to the words and Commandments of Jesus and His promises to me that endure forever? Am I letting His words shape me more than the events of our world? How deeply convinced am I that all things that I have and am are passing away?” The many ideologies of our times, the fashions and maxims of our world, the false and empty promises of the world, all will come and go in their own time like the wind and they will drag us with them as we hold on to them. But the truths and promises of God remain intact and give us a permanence to the extent that we build our lives on them, “The world passes away, and the lust of it; but He who does the will of God shall endure forever.”(1 Jn 2:17)
Jesus has given us His words and have thus consecrated us as God’s children. He has promised us that He will never abandon us, “I will be with you always until the end of time.” He assured us that this world will always be a place of frightening challenges, “In this world you will have tribulations.” But He has already overcome this world of chaos, “Take heart, I have overcome the world.” He assured us in today’s Gospel that even in the midst of all these signs, He will come and gather us to Himself because He must complete the good that He has begun already. Do we hold on to these words as the only thing that never passes away? Holding on to what matters most is to hold on to that which never passes away – God’s truth and promises.
We turn to Mary our Mother who treasured all God’s words and kept it all in her heart. She never ceased to draw strength from His truths to her and His promise to her through the Angel Gabriel, “With God all things are possible.” If we are humble and wise enough, let us beg her to help us to keep God’s words entrenched in our hearts, never to be displaced by the passing things and emotions of this life.
In every Eucharist, the timeless and unchanging words of Jesus are repeated over bread and wine to make Christ Jesus present on our altars, “This is my body…This is my blood.” These words never pass away and they never lose their efficacy. We Catholics believe that by the words of Jesus and His promise to us, the visible signs of bread and wine will pass away but Christ’s presence will abide with us after Communion. Why then should we hold on to a passing fear and anger while being in communion with Jesus who remains forever? Why then should we hold on to things that are passing away and risk passing away with them?
In a world of fearful signs, a world that often leaves us angry and frustrated, our hope, strength, and inner peace lies in our honest answer to the repentance question, “What am I really holding on to in this passing life?”
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!