33rd Sunday of the Year Malachi 3:19–20; 2 Thessalonians 3:7–12; Luke 21:5–19 The day after How prepared to meet Jesus will we be when the end comes? One night in 1983, over 100 million television viewers saw the movie The Day After. Filmed in Lawrence, Kansas, it portrayed what that city would be like after a nuclear attack.
Just before the film began, a warning flashed on the screen, saying: “Because of the graphic portrayal of nuclear war, this film may be unsuitable for children. Parental discretion is advised.’’ The warning was well given. For during the next 128 minutes, the movie showed shocking scenes of death and destruction. The script, too, was shocking and disturbing. It made us realize that the possibility of a nuclear attack was greater than we had ever imagined. The words and images of today’s gospel are reminiscent of the words and images of that film. Jesus portrays for us, graphically, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. For Jews, the destruction of these two things was equivalent to the end of the world. Precisely for this reason, the Church uses this gospel passage as one of its readings for the end of the liturgical year. It wants us to reflect on the end of the world. It wants us to reflect on that moment when the world, as we know it, will pass away. It wants us to ask ourselves, “How prepared will we be for that moment when it comes?’’ Let us do this together, now. Let’s choose just one aspect of our Christian life. Let’s choose the most important one: love. Let’s ask ourselves three questions about love. How loving are our thoughts— right now in our life? How loving are our words— right now in our life? How loving are our actions— right now in our life? First, our thoughts. Consider just one facet of them. How judgmental are we in our thoughts about other people? Do we tend to set ourselves above other people? Do we tend to pass judgment on them— judgment that is often unkind or unfair? There’s a Peanuts cartoon that shows Charlie Brown and Linus standing side by side. Charlie is looking at a drawing of a man that Linus has just made. Charlie says to Linus, “I see you’ve drawn the man with his hands behind his back. That shows you are insecure.’’ Linus replies, “I didn’t put his hands behind his back because I am insecure. I did it because I can’t draw hands.’’ That story makes us ask ourselves, “Do we tend to read into situations? Do we tend to judge others recklessly, as Charlie did Linus in that cartoon?’’ That brings us to our second point: our words or speech. Again, let’s consider just one aspect of our words or speech. Do we use our speech to talk about the faults of others? Do we use it to gossip about other people? Perhaps you’ve heard the story about three church leaders— a Catholic, a Protestant, and a Jew— all from the same small town. They decided to make a retreat together. In the course of their retreat, they shared with each other one of their most embarrassing shortcomings. The Catholic priest said, “I must tell you both that I’ve been drinking a little lately.’’ The Jewish rabbi said, “And I must tell you both that I’ve been gambling a little lately.’’ Finally, the Protestant minister said, “And I must tell you both that I can’t keep a thing to myself. I’m an incurable gossip.’’ That story makes us ask ourselves, “Do we use our speech to gossip about others?’’ That brings us to our third point: our actions. Again, let’s consider just one aspect of them— the one the Gospel says is the most important of all: helping other people. Some years ago nine physically handicapped people successfully climbed Mt. Rainier in Washington state. One of the climbers had an artificial leg. Another climber was an epileptic. Two others were deaf, and five were blind. In spite of their handicaps, the nine people negotiated the 14,000-foot mountain together, up and down, without accident. When asked about the amazing feat, one of the blind members of the party said simply, “We got a lot of help from one another.’’ That story makes us ask ourselves, “How much are we helping one another in our mutual efforts to climb the mountain that leads to God and heaven?’’ And so we return to our original question: How prepared will we be to meet Jesus at the end of the world or at the end of our lives— whichever comes first? How prepared are we to meet him, right now, in just three areas of our life? First, our thoughts. Do we judge other people recklessly? Second, our words. Do we talk about other people unkindly? And, finally, our actions. Do we turn our back on other people’s needs? If we aren’t doing too well in these areas now, what makes us think we will do any better in the future? Let’s close with a prayer: Lord, give us a mind that will think thoughts that are kind and fair. Give us lips that will speak words that are true and charitable. Give us hands that will do deeds that are modeled after the ones you did for people in your own lifetime.
33rd Sunday of the Year Malachi 3:19–20; 2 Thessalonians 3:7–12; Luke 21:5–19 Doomsday clock The Church invites us to reflect on the end of the world, but in an atmosphere of commitment and calm, not panic and doom. Years ago a Hollywood movie opened with a businessman standing in front of his office window, watching people buy their morning newspapers. As he stood there, he suddenly thought to himself, “What if I could buy tomorrow’s paper today?’’ The thought of being able to do this excited him beyond words. He thought of all the business opportunities that it would open up for him. Then something strange happened. A shriveled-up old man entered his office with the next day’s newspaper. He handed it to the businessman and said, “I’ve decided to grant your wish.’’ The rest of the movie dealt with what happened to the businessman as a result of his knowledge of the future and how this knowledge changed his life in a most remarkable and unexpected way. In a sense, Jesus does something similar in today’s gospel. He gives his disciples a glimpse, as it were, into the future. Specifically, Jesus foretells the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple— an event that took place forty years later, when Roman armies attacked Jerusalem and completely destroyed the Temple. For Jews, the destruction of the Temple was the equivalent of the end of the world. Precisely for this reason, the Church uses this gospel passage as the main reading for this second-to-last Sunday of the liturgical year. As this liturgical year draws to a close, the Church wants us to reflect on the day when the world will also draw to a close and Jesus will return in final glory. There’s a lot of talk about the end of the world these days. As a matter of fact, in 1947 a “doomsday clock’’ was inaugurated by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, a publication of the Education Foundation for Nuclear Science. The purpose of the doomsday clock is to show how things like the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the destruction of the environment, and international political unrest are pushing our world deeper and deeper into the danger zone of global annihilation. Because of its prestigious backing, the doomsday clock is taken seriously by some very serious people. Currently, the clock reads 11:54 P.M.— or six minutes to doomsday. All this talk about doomsday has led many preachers to predict that the end of the world is near at hand. And this brings us back to today’s gospel. In the process of foretelling the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, Jesus refers to the fact that he will return at the end of the world. Commenting on that day and hour, Jesus says: “Watch out; don’t be fooled. Many men, claiming to speak for me, will come and say, . . . ‘The time has come!’ But don’t follow them.” Jesus goes on to say that before he returns, his followers will suffer great persecution. He says: “Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a single hair from your heads will be lost.” But Jesus also says: “I will give you such words and wisdom that none of your enemies will be able to refute or contradict what you say.” Today’s gospel invites us to reflect on the end of the world, all right. But it invites us to do so not within an atmosphere of panic, fear, and impending doom. Rather, it invites us to do so within an atmosphere of Christian commitment and Christian confidence. By an atmosphere of Christian commitment, we mean within the atmosphere of Jesus’ teaching that we should use our talents and resources not for selfish purposes, but for the purposes of God’s kingdom on earth. And by an atmosphere of Christian confidence, we mean within the atmosphere that Jesus talks about in today’s gospel, when he says: “I will give you such words and wisdom that none of your enemies will be able to refute or contradict what you say. . . . But not a single hair from your heads will be lost.” In other words, we should reflect on the end of the world not in an atmosphere of doomsday panic, but in an atmosphere of Christian confidence. Today’s gospel does, indeed, put into our hands a copy of tomorrow’s newspaper today. And because it does, our lives ought to change accordingly. For we have the assurance of Jesus himself that if we remain united to him, we will be victorious. Nothing will defeat us. This is the good news contained in today’s Scripture readings. This is the good news that we celebrate together in today’s liturgy. It’s the good news that if we remain united to Jesus in faith and use our talents and resources in the spirit of Jesus’ teaching, we have nothing to fear when the doomsday clock strikes twelve. We have nothing to fear when others hate us because we are followers of Jesus. We have nothing to fear when Jesus himself appears at the end of time on clouds of glory. On the contrary, we will have every reason to rejoice. We will have every reason to sing. We will have every reason to shout for joy. Let’s close with these words of Jesus in St. John’s Gospel. They sum up what we mean by an atmosphere of Christian commitment and Christian confidence. Jesus says: “Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you. A branch cannot bear fruit by itself; it can do so only if it remains in the vine. In the same way you cannot bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.” John 15:4–5
33rd Sunday of the Year Malachi 3:19–20a, 2 Thessalonians 3:7–12, Luke 21:5–19 Suffering Suffering will make you either bitter or better. Jesus said,] “Stand firm, and you will save yourselves.” Luke 21:19 Father Anton Luli was a Jesuit priest. He was arrested by the Communists just before Christmas in 1947. He writes in his memoirs: On Christmas night . . . they hung me up with a rope. . . . I could barely touch the ground with the tips of my toes. [After hanging there for hours,] I felt my body slowly . . . failing me. The cold gradually crept upon my limbs and . . . my heart was about to give in . . . I gave a desperate cry. . . . My torturers arrived . . . pulled me down, and kicked me all over. That night . . . I experienced the real meaning of . . . the Cross. But along with this suffering I also had . . . within me the comforting presence of the Lord Jesus. . . . At times his support was something I can only call “extraordinary” so great was the joy and comfort that Jesus communicated to me. What Father Luli did not foresee on that terrifying Christmas night was that he was destined to spend the next 40 years in prison. Seventeen of them would be in solitary confinement. He ended his memoirs, saying: They released me in the 1989 amnesty. I was 79 years old. I have never felt resentment for those who—humanly speaking— robbed me of my life. After my release, I happened to meet one of my torturers on the street: I took pity on him . . . and embraced him. There are thousands of priests who have been persecuted in their lives because of . . . Christ . . . but no one can wrench from our hearts our love for Jesus. Father Luli’s incredible story bring us to today’s Gospel reading. In it, Jesus talks about the destruction of the Temple and about the end of the world. When his disciples asked him when these events will take place, Jesus gave them three signs to look for. First, false prophets will begin to appear. Jesus says: “Many men, claiming to speak for me, will come and say . . . ‘The time has come!’ But don’t follow them.” Luke 21:8 Second, terrifying things will take place both on earth and in the skies. Third, and finally, Jesus says: “Before all these things take place . . . you will be . . . persecuted . . . put in prison . . . [and] brought before kings and rulers for my sake. This will be your chance to tell the Good News. . . . Stand firm [through all these things], and you will save yourselves.” Luke 21:12–13, 19 And that brings us back to Father Luli’s story. He experienced trials, persecution, and imprisonment for Jesus’ sake. And he used these things as a chance to tell the Good News. Like Jesus, he forgave those who persecuted him. And like Jesus, he stood firm to the end. As a result, his story encourages us and inspires us to respond to our trials and our sufferings as he did to his. To be sure, we may not be around for the trials and suffering that will foretell the end of the world. But this much is absolutely sure: All of us will undergo trials and suffering at some time in our lives. This is where Father Luli’s story fits in with today’s readings. It assures us that if we accept our trials and sufferings, they can turn into great blessings for us, as they did for him. For example, as a result of his trials and suffering, Father Luli experienced God’s presence and help as he had never experienced them before— nor as few people ever have. That leads us to an important point. Every trial and suffering ends up making us either bitter or better, depending on how we accept it. Consider a true story that illustrates this point in a beautiful way. One day in seventh grade, John Erickson looked up at the chalkboard and couldn’t read the words. He was stunned. Then his sight returned, and he was able to see again, but not as well as before. Shortly afterward, his worst nightmare was realized. He learned he might be going blind. God had blessed him with a twin brother, however. His parents invested in a tandem bicycle, and the boys went everywhere together. John sat in the rear; his brother, in front. When it came time to go to high school, John stood his ground and went to school with his brother—rather than to a school for the visually handicapped. To make a long story short, John became president of the sophomore class. He swam, skied, sailed, and did just about everything other kids did. After high school John graduated from Notre Dame and got an MBA from Northwestern University. Today he is the vice president in charge of bond investments for one of Chicago’s largest banks. He’s also married and has a lovely family. He is virtually blind today, but deeply grateful to God for all his blessings. One of the greatest blessings, he feels, that his “challenge” has bestowed on him is a personal relationship with Jesus. John said that at the age of 23, he joined a Bible study group. One day it suddenly dawned on him that Jesus was with him— and always had been in a special way. After that, he never felt alone again. And so today’s readings assure us that if we pray and stand firm in time of trial and suffering— as Father Luli and John did— we will end up victorious, as they did. This is the good news contained in today’s readings. This is the good news that we celebrate in this liturgy. This is the good news that Jesus wants us to take home today. Let us close with these words of Jesus. They sum up the reason why we will end up victorious if we pray and stand firm in time of trial and suffering. Jesus said: “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.” John 15:4–5 (NAB)