15 November 2015

What is Jesus waiting for. . .?

33rd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Watching the news these past few days, I can't help but hear, whispering behind reports of war, riots, famine, economic collapse, the dooming rhythm of Yeats, reading his visionary poem, “The Second Coming”: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” This is 1919. Just one year after 16 million soldiers are killed in WWI. Just one year after Europe ends its suicidal slaughter for the glory of kings and parliaments. And just 13 years before a former corporal in the Austrian army is appointed Chancellor in Germany. His reign will end in 1945 with the deaths of more than 70 million. Yeats: “Surely some revelation is at hand;/Surely the Second Coming is at hand./The Second Coming!” Jesus assures his disciples that he will come again. He came to us first as a Child and next as Judge and King. When? “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” So, as we prepare to wait for his birth in Bethlehem, we wait for his coming again in glory.

Though it is not yet Advent, that time when we wait in anticipation for the birth of Christ, we celebrate another sort of Advent this evening, a Second Advent, celebrated everyday, every hour since Christ's resurrection from the tomb. Jesus warns his disciples that after his death, “False messiahs and false prophets will arise and will perform signs and wonders in order to mislead. . .the elect. Be watchful!” And despite this warning, many of his disciples through the centuries have been misled. Some by a Roman emperor. Others by Greek heresies. Many by charismatic monks and holy women. Millions were led astray by clever theological argument. And millions more by atheistic science, utopian fantasy, secular political ideology, and the temporary treasures of Mammon. How many have been duped by New Age gibberish, or the slick sales pitch of 21st century humanists? Jesus calls this long, painful falling away from the apostolic faith, a tribulation; that is, the threshing of a harvest to separate the wheat from the chaff, the strong in faith from the Convenient Christian.

After this tribulation, he says, “. . .the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky. . .” And as nature convulses in its announcement, we “will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory. . .” His angels will “gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.” Seeing on the faces of his disciples the same expression that most of you have now, Jesus answers the unspoken question: “When [the fig tree's] branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that [the Son of Man] is near, at the gates.” When is the Christ coming again? When will the Son of Man be near the gates? When we see the sun and moon eclipsed and stars shooting through the sky. When, as regularly as the changing of the seasons, the blooming of the fig trees, we see men and women misled by false prophets and fake Messiahs. He will come again when “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned.” In other words, he is always prepared to come again, so we must always be ready to receive him. When “the best lack all conviction,” and “the worst/Are full of passionate intensity,” his Church must be passionately convicted in her faith, waiting for his arrival with an intense hope.

Obscure apocalyptic passages like this one from Mark serve a specific purpose in the life of the Church. Rather than tempting us with the useless task of figuring out the hour and day of Christ's return, these passages urge us to hold firm in the faith and live with the hope that Christ's resurrection promises. Rather than scaring us silly with tales of the imminent destruction of the world and threats of eternal damnation, these passages report events that have already taken place in history; or events that are occurring at the time the passage was written; or events that recur in history over and over again. Their purpose is to reassure us that there is nothing particularly poignant about the social, economic, religious convulsions that we are living through. Has there been a century in 5,000 yrs of human history w/o a solar or lunar eclipse, a meteor shower? A decade unscathed by war, plague, poverty, or natural disaster? We don't need to know when Christ will return. All we need to know is that he will, and that our task is to be ready: free from all anxiety, utterly at peace. We wait. But are we ready?

We might wonder: what’s Jesus waiting for? Surely the world cannot be a bigger mess; surely we cannot become more self-destructive, angrier, greedier, more hostile to peace and the poor! Iran is on the verge of building a nuclear bomb. Europe is experiencing a near-invasion from Syria. ISIS is systematically butchering its enemies, daring the West to invade. And here in the U.S. we seem hellbent on defying both divine and natural law. What's he waiting on? He’s waiting on you. On me. On all of us. He waiting for us and our repentance. Peter asks an excellent question: “Since all [of creation is] thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God. . .?” While we wait on the destruction of the world, what sort of persons should we be? What kind of person should you be, if you want to hasten the Christ's second coming? If his coming again seems to be taking too long, Peter reminds us: “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” The day and hour of the Second Coming matches perfectly the day and hour of our repentance, our return to righteousness in Christ.

Have you been through the tribulation long enough? Have you been thoroughly threshed? If not, think about your tipping point. What will it take to turn you around, back to God? You see, the threshing process we all go through can take days or decades; it can be a slow, agonizing process, resulting in cuts and bruises; or a quick, painless beating with a feather. It all depends on how eager we are to be threshed; that is, it all depends on what sort of persons we want to be while the world circles the bowl. Peter's question—“what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness”—answers itself. Living a life of holiness and godliness makes you a holy and godly person. While the world self-destructs, a godly and holy people will hear and see the Word at work in the world; preach and teach the Good News of repentance and forgiveness; do good works for the glory of God; grow and grow in holiness not just by avoiding sin but by embracing grace as well. So, while we wait for the Second Coming, let's hasten Christ's arrival by making our every word, our every move shout joy to the world so that no one is left behind, so that every eye can see and every ear hear that God freely offers His mercy to sinners through the once-for-all sacrifice of His Son on the Cross.

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“Who will I die for today?”

NB. A Roman homily from 2009. . .never been preached.  It will need a littled revision before I preach it tonight at OLR.

NB. 2.0. Oops! So eager was I to preach an unpreached homily that I didn't pay enough attention to what I wanted to preach. The homily below is NOT for this Sunday's readings.   

33rd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Your best friend discovers that you and your spouse have cashed in your vacation savings so that your children can continue in their Catholic school. Your friend notes with admiration, “That's quite a sacrifice!” It's final exams week and you rush to be with your sick mother. Your professor, though sympathetic, says, “Unfortunately, your sacrifice will not help your grade.” You read in the Sunday paper that a well-trained German Shepherd in the local police force “sacrificed its life to save its human partner.” In that same paper, the stories from Iraq and Afghanistan are littered with references with the sacrifice of our soldiers in combat. Each time, the word “sacrifice” rings nobly in your ears, and you note that something has been lost so that something more important might be accomplished. We understand sacrifice in terms of loss and gain, in terms of “giving up mine” so that you might “have yours.” Something ends and something begins. Almost always absent in these descriptions is the sense of the holy, that taste of the transcendent that gives sacrifice a religious flavor, some deference to a time and place other than this one. For Christians, sacrificium, means sacrifice, oblation; an offering to God. The Latin word comes from sacer (holy) and facere (to make). To sacrifice is to make holy. That which is sacrificed is made holy; the one making the sacrifice is made holy. Most importantly for us, the ones for whom the sacrifice is made are made holy. Christ is the High Priest who sacrifices. He is the Victim of this sacrifice. And we are the beneficiaries: “For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.”

In Hebrews this morning, we read, “Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same sacrifices that can never take away sins.” The author of this letter is writing to the Jews who have come to Christ. He is using images and language that they will immediately understand. Having spent most of their lives in the temple-worship of the Father, offering animal sacrifice for their sins, these converts will know that the author is alluding to the ineffectiveness of those same animal sacrifices in relieving them of their sin. In obedience to the Covenant, they carry out their religious duties and demonstrate a fidelity to God. However, these sacrifices do not and cannot wipe away their sin. Though God may account them holy before Him, they are not, in fact, made holy through in their temple worship. God alone is holy and only He can make what is unholy holy in fact.

To accomplish the sanctification of all creation, God sends His only Son among us as a Man, one like us in every way except sin. The God-Man, Jesus Christ, born of a virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit, is sacrificed on the cross for us. As the incarnate Son, he is already holy. As the priest, he is holy. As the lamb on the altar of the cross is he holy. He offers himself to God as the one, perfect sacrifice for all that need not ever be repeated, that cannot be repeated. We can understand this sacrifice for in any number of ways: substitutionary, existential, exemplary. Christ died for our sins so that we need not die in sin; he died instead of us. Christ experienced the death of sin as a man so that all men might be saved from such a death; his experience reveals the hope of eternal life. Christ on the cross shows us the meaning of love: to die for one's friends; his death is our model for life. Wherever we want to place the emphasis, one element of his sacrifice is clear: our holiness is not our own, but rather a gift from the altar of the cross given freely by our great High Priest. We have only to accept this gift and follow him.

By one perfect offering of himself on the cross, Christ united us again with the Father, and we persevere in the presence of the Holy Spirit, striving against already-vanquished sin to achieve our perfection in the promise of holiness. Our constant failure to perfect his promise of holiness does nothing to revoke the promise. His offer of holiness made from the cross is universal and permanent: for all, forever. No tribe, tongue, nation, people, race, or class is excluded from the invitation. No one is missed out because he was born Man to save all mankind, and nothing broken is left unfixed. No sin, no fault, no vice, no deviance, no crime, nothing torn or damaged among his human creatures is left unhealed. Nothing in the entirety of His creation is left to chaos or disease. Where we find disorder, look for disobedience. Where we find strife, debauchery, disregard for life, anxiety and distress, look for men and women without hope. But as time grows short, look for Christ's return. What has been woven together will unravel when left uncared for and the weaver will return to repair the damage of our carelessness.

We care best of ourselves and one another when we sacrifice, when we “hand over to make holy.” As priests of the New Covenant, we offer oblation to God when we lay our worry, our sickness, our poverty, our arrogance, our sin on his altar and leave ourselves freshly vulnerable to being made again in his image and likeness, to being made over as Christ for others. It is not enough that we sacrifice as priests. If we are follow him, we must the victim of our sacrifice as well. Not my sin only, but yours too. Not your sin only, but mine as well. The Body must sacrifice for the Body, all its members for one another. We are holy together or not at all. This is the danger of being Catholic, of being one Body baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Christ: we are saved as a Church, bound together by the chains of God's sacraments. “Me and Jesus” is the Devil's lie that makes our faith into a religiousy version of the “Lone Ranger.” We rise or fall as one in the One who made us one by dying on the cross.

Perhaps the question we should ask ourselves upon waking each morning is: “Who will I die for today?”


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