19th Sunday of the Year Wisdom 18:6–9; Hebrews 11:1–2, 8–19; Luke 12:32–48
Man in room 40 We can see what we will be in the future by looking closely at what we are right now.
In his book Unfinished Business, Halford Luccock describes a novel by Osbert Sitwell. It is called The Man Who Lost Himself.
In one scene the hero of the novel trails a man to Paris. He thinks he knows at what hotel the man is staying, but he’s not sure. So he devises a plan to find out without arousing anyone’s suspicion.
He decides to give the room clerk his own name and ask if a man by that name is in the hotel. Then as the clerk checks through the register, he’ll watch over his shoulder for the other man’s name and room number.
When he goes to the hotel, he gives the room clerk his own name. To his utter surprise, the clerk doesn’t check the register. He simply says:
“Yes, he’s staying in room 40; he’s expecting you. I’ll have the bellhop take you to his room.’’
Well, the hero is utterly flabbergasted. He has no choice but to go. So he follows the bellhop to room 40.
When he knocks at the door and it opens, he can hardly believe his eyes. There, standing before him, is a man who is his exact double, except that he is grayer, heavier, and about 20 years older. The man turns out to be the hero himself, 20 years into the future.
The story is pure science fiction, but it contains an important truth the same truth today’s gospel talks about.
There’s a person out there in the future waiting for each one of us. It’s the person we ourselves will be 10 or 20 years from now.
The question today’s gospel asks us is this: What kind of person will we be then? Will we be someone our family can be proud of? Will we be someone we can be proud of?
Surprisingly, the answer to that question is not as hard to come by as we may think. For example, in which direction are our lives headed right now?
To be specific, are we less honest today than we were a year ago? Five years ago? Are we less understanding today than we were a year ago? Five years ago? Are we less prayerful today than we were a year ago? Five years ago?
The answers to those questions hold the clue to the person we will be 20 years from now.
There’s an old adage that says, “As the twig is bent, so the tree grows.’’ In other words, the direction our life is taking now is probably the direction it will continue to take.
For example, if we are becoming less and less honest with each passing year, we probably won’t be too honest 20 years from now. If we are becoming less and less understanding with each passing year, we probably won’t be too understanding 20 years from now. If we are becoming less and less prayerful with each passing year, we probably won’t be too prayerful 20 years from now.
This brings up an important question. If we find ourselves becoming less honest, less understanding, and less prayerful, what can we do to change this downhill trend? How can we reverse the direction of our lives?
The first thing we can do is to admit frankly that we are going downhill in a certain area. For example, we can admit that we are not as prayerful today as we once were.
Admitting this is not only the first step but also the hardest and the most important step. It’s not easy to admit a defect.
The second step is to ask God’s forgiveness for our defect. We can do this in prayer. Or, more ideally, we can do this in the sacrament of Reconciliation.
This sacrament is one of the greatest gifts of our Catholic faith. And it’s encouraging to see how many people are starting to use it again on a more regular basis.
The third step is to begin a concrete program that will change the direction of our lives.
For example, if we aren’t as prayerful as we used to be, we can set aside a few minutes each night for prayer. If we decide to do this, we should keep at hand a Bible or a book of prayers. St. Theresa of Avila always began her prayer from a book. Suitable books are readily available from a library or a bookstore.
Or if our problem is impatience, we can sit down and try to determine what situations, especially, cause us to become impatient. Then we can check ourselves each night on how we handled our impatience that day.
We can do more. If we have failed, we can determine why we failed and correct whatever caused our failure.
Reversing the direction of our lives is not easy.
But with our own effort and with God’s help, we can do it, just as many have done before us.
In brief, then, today’s gospel invites us to ask ourselves this question: Are we less honest, less understanding, less prayerful than we were a year ago—or five years ago?
If our answer to that question is yes, then we should take steps to change this downhill trend in our lives.
First, we should admit our failure.
Second, we should ask God’s forgiveness for it.
Finally, we should begin a daily program to modify or change whatever needs modification or change in our lives.
Let’s close with a prayer:
Lord, help us see our lives as you see them and as we ourselves will see them at the Last Judgment.
Help us see those areas in our lives that need improving or changing.
Help us take those steps necessary to bring our lives into accord with the life you had in mind for us when you created us.
Series II 19th Sunday of the Year Wisdom 18:6–9; Hebrews 11:1–2, 8–19; Luke 12:35–40
Nothing is forever How well are we preparing for the next life?
Frank Kendig and Richard Hutton have written a book called Life Spans, or How Long Things Last. In it you discover some interesting facts.
For example, you discover that the average life of baseball shoes worn by your favorite major league star is only two months.
Even more surprising, you discover that the average life of the stick used by your favorite hockey player is only two games.
You also discover that the average life of a soldier’s boots in peacetime is fifteen months, while in wartime it drops to only three months.
While the lifespans of certain things are shorter than we might think, the lifespans of other things are quite long.
For example, a beer can left behind by someone camping on a mountain will still be there 80 years from now. And a leather shoe left behind at the same site will be there 50 years from now.
Finally, the average rock that protrudes from the ground will still be there a thousand years from now.
But whatever it is a hockey stick, a beer can, or a rock authors Kendig and Hutton assure us that it will eventually disappear. For nothing lasts forever.
And what is true of hockey sticks, beer cans, and rocks is true of human beings.
We too will eventually disappear. None of us will last forever.
And that’s precisely the point that Jesus makes in today’s gospel. That’s why he warns us:
“Be ready . . . with your lamps lit. . . . [Y]ou, too, must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him.”
Although Jesus is referring here to his Second Coming, theologians assure us that his words may be taken in two senses.
In the narrow sense they refer to the end of the world. In the wider sense, however, they refer to the end of our life.
And it is for the end of our life or our death that we must be, especially, prepared. All we know is that it will occur. We will not live forever.
Sigmund Freud, a famous Austrian neurologist, is the founder of psychoanalysis. He died just before World War II.
Freud had a favorite story that touches on the point of preparedness. The story concerns a sailor who was shipwrecked and washed ashore on a South Pacific island.
He was greeted enthusiastically by natives. They clapped and sang, hoisted him on their shoulders, carried him to their village, and sat him on a golden throne.
Little by little, the sailor learned what was going on.
The islanders had a custom of occasionally making a man king for a year. During his kingship he could order his subjects to do anything within reason, and they would obey him without question.
The sailor was delighted that he had been chosen to be the king. He couldn’t believe his good fortune.
Then one day he began to wonder what happened to a king when his year of kingship ended.
That’s when his excitement and enthusiasm came to an abrupt end.
He discovered that at the end of his kingship, he would be banished to a barren island, called King’s Island. There he would be left to starve to death as a sacrifice to the gods.
After the sailor recovered from his shock, he slowly began to put together a plan.
As king, he ordered the carpenters of the island to build a fleet of small boats. When the boats were ready, he ordered the farmers of the island to dig up fruit trees and plants, put them in the boats, and transplant them on King’s Island.
Finally, he ordered the stone masons to build a house on King’s Island. In this way, the sailor prepared carefully for the day when his kingship would end and he would be banished to King’s Island.
That story makes a good illustration of what Jesus is telling us in today’s gospel.
In the words of Jesus, elsewhere in the gospel, he is telling us to “save your riches in heaven, where they will never decrease, because no thief can get to them, and no moth can destroy them.” Luke 12:33
He’s telling us to do what the sailor did.
Today’s gospel invites us to ask ourselves how well we are preparing ourselves for that day when, like the sailor in the story, our life on this planet will come to an end.
It invites us to ask ourselves, “If we were to die tonight, how ready would we be to face God?’’
And if our answer to that question leaves something to be desired, then we can be sure that Jesus is speaking to us in a special way through today’s gospel. He is saying:
“Be . . . like servants who are waiting for their master to come back. . . . And you, too, must be ready, because the Son of man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him.”
That’s the message that Jesus gives us in today’s gospel. That’s the message that Jesus wants us to take to heart in this liturgy. Let’s close with a passage from James Weldon Johnson’s book God’s Trombones.
In the passage Johnson describes the death of a woman who took to heart Jesus’ words in today’s gospel and was prepared for death when it came. Johnson says of the woman:
“[Sister Caroline] saw what we couldn’t see; she saw Old Death. She saw Old Death coming like a falling star. But death didn’t frighten Sister Caroline; he looked to her like a welcome friend. And she whispered to us: ‘I’m going home.’ And she smiled and closed her eyes.’’
Sister Caroline was ready to go home.
Series III 19th Sunday of the Year Wisdom 18:6–9; Hebrews 11:1–2, 8–12; Luke 12:35–40
Judgment Your seat in eternity will it be smoking or nonsmoking?
Jesus said,] “[T]he Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him.” Luke 12:40
Amother was sitting on a crowded beach reading a book. Her small son was playing in the sand.
Suddenly he stopped playing and started shouting,“Mom! Mom! Look! Jesus is coming! Jesus is coming!”
His mother looked up from her book and said, “What are you talking about?” He pointed excitedly to the sky. There was a plane towing a banner reading “Jesus is coming.”
After the plane passed, the boy asked his mother, “So! When is Jesus coming?”
His mother did a quick search of her mind. Then she said, “The Bible says at a time when we least expect.”
Her son paused momentarily. Then, looking around at the people on the beach, he said, “Mom, do you think everybody’s ready?” That provocative story fits in with today’s Mass readings. It fits in, especially, with today’s Gospel, where Jesus warns us:
“[Y]ou, too, must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him.” Luke 12:40
Regardless of how we picture the coming of Jesus, we do know one thing for sure: Jesus will come, and his coming will mark the end of human history.
Happy, indeed, are they who are ready. For the Gospels make it clear that many will not be so fortunate.
That brings us to an important truth of our faith a faith that stretches all the way back to Abraham, as today’s second reading points out.
At the end of our lives, or at the end of the world whichever comes first we will be held accountable for how well we spent our time on earth. Saint Paul writes to the Corinthians:
[A]ll of us must appear before Christ, to be judged by him. We will each receive what we deserve, according to everything we have done, good or bad, in our bodily life. 2 Corinthians 5:10
There is an ancient play called Everyman. In the play, God sends Death to the hero to tell him that his time on earth is over. When the hero recovers from the shock, he asks Death to give him a few minutes to ask his friends Money, Fame, Power, and Good Works to accompany him into the afterlife.
Death grants his request.
But to the hero’s dismay, the only friend who will go with him is Good Works.
All the others refuse.
The point of the play is that when death comes for us, only one thing will matter: the good works we did while we lived.
The research of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross of the University of Chicago makes the same point.
She interviewed hundreds of people who were declared clinically dead and then revived. A remarkable number of these people report experiencing a kind of instant replay of their lives a kind of judgment, if you will. She quotes them as saying:
When you come to this point, you see there are only two things that are relevant: love and the service you render to others.
All those things we think are important like money, fame, and power are insignificant.
And so the play Everyman and the research of Dr. Kubler-Ross underscore the great truth of our faith, namely, that we will be held accountable for what we did or failed to do while we lived on earth. The Bible speaks of two kinds of judgment: a particular judgment immediately after death, and a general judgment at the end of the world.
In the particular judgment, we will see ourselves exactly as we are. We will see what we have become during our time on earth.
In a very real sense, however, God will not judge us at this time; we will judge ourselves. Jesus alluded to this when he said:
“If people hear my message and do not obey it, I will not judge them. I came, not to judge the world, but to save it.
“Those who reject me and do not accept my message have one who will judge them. The words I have spoken will be their judge on the last day!” John 12:47–48
In the general judgment, on the other hand, our fate and the fate of all peoples will be made manifest to the world.
Jesus describes the general judgment, using this striking imagery:
“When the Son of Man comes as King and all the angels with him, he will sit on his royal throne, and the people of all the nations will be gathered before him. “Then he will divide them into two groups, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. . . .
“Then the King will say to the people on his right, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. . . .’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Away from me.’ ” Matthew 25:31–34, 41
This is the great teaching of our faith, referred to in today’s Gospel. This is why we have gathered together for this liturgy.
It is to recall and celebrate the fact that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
And when he comes again, he will reward us with eternal life, depending on how we spent our time on earth.