Sunday, November 15, 2015

At the Gates

In case we had forgotten and needed another reminder, the world has just gotten another reminder this week in Paris of what a dangerous and unpredictable place this world is - and how strong the power of evil is in the world. When we see these things, naturally we worry. 

But Jesus says something else. “When you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates.” [Mark 13:24-32]

In every period of human history, but especially in times of rapid change and confusion, people have looked for prophecies and predictions and dubious private revelations to explain what was happening to their formerly familiar world. As if that were what Jesus was talking about! For the same Jesus who told his hearers to be on the lookout and to recognize the signs of his coming, also assured them that “of that day or hour, no one knows.”

Even so, Jesus challenges his followers to be on the lookout for signs of his kingdom.

So we need to ask ourselves what things do we see happening in the world right now?

We certainly do seem to be in one of those times of rapid change and confusion. As Pope Francis said in Florence last Wednesday, we live not so much “in an age of change,” as “in a change of age.” We live in situations that “pose new challenges, which, for us at times are difficult to understand.”

In the Gospel we just heard, Jesus made his ominous predictions just prior to Passover, in the springtime, when the fig tree sprouts leaves, a sure sign that summer is near. It is, however, in the autumn of the year that the church annually repeats this message. Autumn is the long-awaited and hoped-for season of harvest, when the year’s work finds fulfillment our season of thanksgiving.

Harvest, however, also marks an end. In nature, November vividly anticipates both the eventual end of the natural world and the eventual end of each individual. The Church recaptures for us that natural cyclical mood, as it recalls Christ’s warning words about the end, when the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.

And so we wait – not just for the end of the world, but for our own individual end. And it is precisely how we wait that identifies what following Jesus in the world is all about.

For following Jesus is not about pinpointing that day or hour. Even less is it about trying to identify in advance which of our neighbors shall live forever and which shall be in everlasting horror and disgrace. On the contrary, following Jesus is all about the how in the now – how we live and what we love in the here and now, what we make of this interval, whether it be long or short, until the end – in other words, the durability and quality of our commitment and our faithfulness to him and to one another for the duration. That’s what matters most over the long haul and will determine who we will be for all eternity. That is the wisdom which shall shine like the splendor of the firmament and lead many to justice [Daniel 12:1-3].

Meanwhile, we are fortified for that long haul by the durability and quality of Jesus Christ’s commitment and faithfulness to his Father, the same Christ who, in the words we just heard from the letter to the Hebrews, took his seat forever at the right hand of God. [Hebrews 10:11-14,18]

In Florence last Wednesday, Pope Francis invited us to recognize and respond to the problems of our times “as challenges and not as obstacles.” That same day, we celebrated the memory of Saint. Martin of Tours, a 4th-century soldier, monk, bishop, and, finally, saint, of whom it was said: Death could not defeat him nor toil dismay him. He neither feared to die nor refused to live.”

And that is about as good a summary of following Jesus in this confusing world as one is likely to get!

Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Saint Anne Church, Walnut Creek, CA, November 15, 2015.

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